South can breathe another sigh of relief.
A 17-point lead with just more than five minutes left was almost cut to a single possession by visiting St. Thomas Aquinas in the final 10 seconds of the ball game.
But here's the good news: The end result was a 57-51 Canton South win. It was South's 15th victory of the season, more than doubling their win total from the past three years combined.
The Wildcats raced out to a 17-11 lead after the first eight minutes of play and took a 26-21 lead into the halftime intermission.
"We were able to sustain a high level of defensive pressure throughout the game," said South head coach Frank Spotleson. "It kept St. Thomas out of their comfort zone on offense and when we struggled offensively, it kept us in the game."
South took control in the third quarter with help of turnovers by the Knights and built their lead to a commanding 43-28 lead after the third buzzer sounded thanks to a 13-0 run late in the final minutes of quarter three.
Then came the infamous fourth quarter for South.
A fourth quarter that has caused them problems recently and almost forced them to lose big leads and cause home fans to scratch their heads.
But once again, here's the good news: They continue to hold on time and time again and squeak out wins.
When asked what the difference in the game was, Spotleson said, "We maintained our composure and found a way to break their pressure and made some big shots down the stretch."
St. Thomas Aquinas did not fold after being down 15 entering quarter number four. South began throwing the ball all over the gym as they committed eight turnovers in the final eight minutes of play and shot just 2-of-7 from the foul line in the final two minutes of play.
"You can be frustrated but they are still doing some awfully good things," said Spotleson, who is ready for his team to play a complete 32 minutes of ball. "It's ugly to watch. It's difficult to coach. But you know what? You've got to have confidence in those kids because that turns to confidence on the court in return."
A patient offense and a lot of pressure defense helped South build a large enough lead that even a fourth quarter meltdown could not undo as South sent the Wildcat fans home happy with the 57-51 win over the St. Thomas Aquinas Knights.
Leading the way for South was Armand Fontes, who totaled 15 points on the evening including five assists and three steals. Kyle Deckard added 10 points, four assists and four steals. Trey Taylor scored 11 points while Josh Lyon added 10. Senior Austin Joliff grabbed nine boards for the Wildcats to go along with his four points. Dejon Newell added seven points for South.
The Knights outrebounded the Wildcats by the count of 29-24.
South was back at it Friday night when the boys jumped on the bus and traveled to West Branch High School to take on the Warriors in a key NBC game. The Cats dumped the Warriors back on Dec. 18 at Red Ash Gymnasium.
It was much of the same in this one as the Cats used big quarters in the second and fourth to propel the visitors to a 74-56 win and keep themselves atop the NBC with three conference games remaining on their schedule.
"We were able to build our lead for the entire game," said Spotleson on his team's full 32 minute effort. "We played very well and were more consistent, especially in the fourth quarter where we had give leads away in the past."
West Branch drew first blood as the Warriors ended the first eight minutes ahead of the state-ranked Wildcats by the score of 18-14.
South showed them in the second quarter what a state-ranked team looked like.
The Cats reeled off a 23-11 run in the second quarter and entered the halftime locker room with a 37-29 lead that they would never relinquish the rest of the evening.
Following the quick breather for both teams, they came out in the third quarter and drew to a stalemate as both teams netted 17 points and South kept their eight point advantage at 54-46 entering the final eight minutes.
If you have been following the Wildcats all season, you would know they have had recent troubles in the fourth quarter in finishing games and would allow teams to creep back in the game and make things interesting.
Not this time.
The Cats outscored the Warriors 20-10 in the final eight minutes of the game and put the game out of reach and took the NBC game by the final of 74-56.
"Our defensive intensity kept West Branch out of their comfort zone," said Spotleson when asked what the difference of the game was. "They had been shooting the ball very well as of late and our defense kept them from getting the shots they like."
Leading the way to South in this one was Joliff, who poured in a game-high 20 points while knocking down four treys. Fontes added 17 for Canton South while Deckard and Taylor chipped in with 11.
Rounding out the scoring for South was Lyon with nine and Jason Merriweather with six.
The Wildcats outrebounded West Branch by a 24-22 margin as Lyon led the Cats with seven boards.
The Cats end the week with an overall record of 16-2 and 9-2 in the NBC.
If Canton South wins out, they will win the NBC title, completing a remarkable turnaround, but easier said than done.
South returned to action on Feb. 5 when they hosted the Salem Quakers in a huge NBC dual. The Quakers were knocked out of first place on Friday night when they lost to Carrollton by the final of 57-53.
The Cats will then travel to Carrollton High School on Friday night, Feb. 8, to take on the Warriors who they bested at home back on Jan. 8. Tip-off time is set for 6 p.m.