All the trend lines were moving toward the Westhill boys basketball team early in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's key showdown with OHSL Liberty division leader Skaneateles.
Once down by 16 points, the Warriors had pulled within four of the state Class B no. 18-ranked Lakers, and appeared to set to avenge its only league loss of the season, a 75-49 bashing Westhill took at Skaneateles back on Dec. 17.
Yet the Warriors could not complete the recovery as the Lakers, leaning heavily on senior Kevin Rice in the homestretch, pulled clear and beat Westhill again, this time 73-64.
The Warriors were back at full strength. Justin Biles returned after sitting out two games, both of them narrow wins (over Fayetteville-Manlius and Hannibal), but his presence didn't kick-start Westhill's attack right away.
Instead, the Warriors went four-plus minutes before scoring a basket and trailed, 14-5, after one period. It got worse in the second quarter, Skaneateles increasing the margin to 34-18 as the trio of Paul O'Donnell (11 points), Pat Roberts (10 points) and Brandon Barron (nine points) did most of the damage.
But it got tighter after Roberts picked up his third foul early in the third quarter, then a fourth foul after a brief appearance early in the final period. Without Roberts' dominant inside presence, the Lakers could not put Westhill away.
So sparked by reserve Joe Meluni, who hit a pair of 3-pointers, the Warriors went on a 16-4 run that bridged the two periods to make it close. With less than five minutes left, Westhill was only down 54-50, ready to catch up.
Then, in the span of a minute, the Lakers locked it up, first by having O'Donnell earn a three-point play, then by seeing Rice sink two free throws and, most importantly, a 3-pointer that rattled in with 3:03 left to make it 62-52. Westhill never threatened again as Rice earned 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Four Warriors hit double figures, led by McAvoy, who had 18 points. Nathan Nigolian threw in 15 points as Meluni earned 13 points and Biles got 10 points. For Skaneateles, O'Donnell matched Rice with 17 points as Barron gained 15 points. Westhill fell to 9-3 on the season.