As the Westhill boys basketball team took its leave from Marcellus last Tuesday night, it carried the knowledge that it could topple the OHSL Liberty Division-leading Mustangs.
But at the same time, the Warriors remained hungry, for its frantic comeback attempt fell just short in a 58-54 defeat to the still-unbeaten Mustangs, who are no. 6 in the latest state Class B rankings.
From a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, Westhill closed within one, but could not tie or get the lead down the stretch.
The Warriors came in well-rested, having not played in eight days since a Dec. 29 win over West Canada Valley in the opening round of the weather-shortened Cooperstown Tournament. Marcellus, at 9-0, had won the Fulton Tournament during the holiday break.
Each side would play hard in a first half that featured three ties and 10 lead changes. Forcing turnovers and excelling on the boards, Westhill kept right up with Marcellus, and when Nate Nigolian hit on a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, the game was tied again at 28-28.
Marcellus then used a 10-0 run to seize control, with Will Fiacchi setting the tone. The junior football prospect (just back from a scouting combine in San Antonio) had 10 of his 16 points in that third period, and by the early part of the fourth quarter, Westhill found itself trailing, 50-35.
Here, though, Westhill's vaunted defense came back to life, holding Marcellus without a field goal for seven-plus minutes as it went on a 16-2 run. When Ross, who finished with 19 points, drove in and scored with 2:30 left, the Warriors only trailed by one, 52-51.
Somehow, Marcellus regrouped, and got back-to-back baskets from Will Nolan and Fiacchi, while Ross twice turned the ball over in the homestretch.
Free throws by Ross and Nigolian made it 56-54 with 13 seconds to play. After a tie-up, the Mustangs got the ball back, and Westhill had to foul Nolan with eight seconds left.
Facing a one-and-one situation, and knowing that any miss kept Westhill alive, Nolan was perfect on both foul shots, and Marcellus had its 10th straight win.
Aside from Ross, Mike McMullen finished with 10 points, as Nigolian got nine points and Tom Fisher produced seven points. Zach Barbaro helped Marcellus with 14 points, most of them in the first half, as Nolan got 11 points.
Westhill, 6-2 on the season, faces Homer Friday night.