EAST BEND — East Wilkes girls basketball coach Billy Brown knows he’s got a much different team than the one he’s had the past few seasons.
Four starters from the 19-win squad of 2008-09 graduated, and that comes on top of losing some big names to graduation the year before that.
But Brown’s latest group gave an effort reminiscent of some of his notable past teams Tuesday night en route to a nail-biting, physical 69-68 overtime triumph at Forbush.
Brittany Diorio hit a putback basket at the fourth-quarter buzzer to force extra time. Kassi Money then swished what would be the game-winning free throw with 26.7 ticks remaining in OT.
Forbush had three possessions after Money was on the money with her free throw but only got off one shot, which rolled off the rim with two seconds left. A turnover and a foul ended the other two possessions.
“We just gutted it out and gutted it out,” Brown said afterward. “We were wondering just what kind of depth we had. I am so proud of the team. Forbush played so hard the whole time and we did too. This is a big win. It’s a tough place to play and they are a well-coached team.”
The Cardinals played much of the fourth quarter without their only returning starter from a year ago, all-conference performer Lauren Royal. They were down three starters during the overtime period.
The game marked the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Conference opener for both squads. East Wilkes nabbed its first overall win after losses to former conference mates North Stokes on Friday and East Surry on Monday. Forbush lost its second game in a row after beating Surry Central in its opener.
The Falcons looked like they were ready to swipe away a victory after rallying from a 46-36 third quarter deficit. With Lauren Royal on the bench with five fouls, the Falcons steadily chopped into the Cardinals lead.
A three-pointer by Lindsey Williams at the third quarter buzzer made it 50-43 East. A bucket by Leslie Long with 2:40 left in regulation pulled Forbush within a point at 56-55.
Samantha Adams hit one free throw for the Cardinals at the 2:07 mark but Williams made a driving layup on the other end to tie things up 57-57 — the first deadlock since the start of the second half.
When center Meghan Luffman made a soft jumper after rolling to the basket with 35 seconds left, Forbush’s comeback looked complete. But a missed free throw by the Falcons with 12.1 ticks remaining left the door open for the Cardinals.
While Samantha Adams missed a driving shot from the left side after snagging the rebound, Diorio was in perfect position for the garbage basket. It swished through at the buzzer, forcing OT.
“It got rough, but both teams wanted to win and that’s the kind of game I want to be a part of,” Brown said. “I’m proud of our girls. It’s an honor to work with them when they play like that. Not because they won but because they showed heart all the way through.”
Forbush scored the first four points in extra time — all from Luffman, who had a game high 24 for the night — and led 65-61 after a pair of Katelynd Caudle free throws with 2:31 remaining. But the Cardinals refused to quit. With Adams running the point — Plan C, coach Brown called it after losing his other two point guards — East tied it up 65-65.
The Cardinals would prevail after Money’s free throw and the Cardinals’ stingy defense coming down the stretch.
The rough and tumble game featured several injuries. The Cardinals lost new starting point guard Erin Royal, the younger sister of Lauren Royal, in the opening half. She never returned.
Both teams had other players miss court time because of injuries.
Adams finished with 22 points, playing four different positions during the evening. Lauren Royal, who swished a pair of third-quarter three-pointers to stretch East’s led out, finished with 13. Erin Royal had 10 points early before exiting.
Forbush got solid contributions from Luffman inside (11 rebounds) as well as Lindsey Williams (13 points), Leslie Long (9) and Katelynd Caudle (8). Caudle and Luffman eventually fouled out in the OT, leaving both teams tested in the depth department.
A strange play in the first half nearly came back to haunt East Wilkes. Lauren Royal scored on a drive to the basket with 2:08 left in the second quarter and drew a foul. The made shot put the Cardinals ahead 28-27 at the time. But for some reason, officials waved off the basket and gave Royal two free throws instead. She made both, but a three-point play suddenly became a two-point play.
Brown and many in the gym were confused after seeing Royal plainly make the basket just before the whistle. “I thought she made the basket, but they said she didn’t,” the coach said.
East Wilkes will play on the road again Friday night, this time staying in county with a trip to North Wilkes. Forbush will entertain Ashe County on Friday. The Falcons host Mount Airy in a non-conference duel Wednesday night.
East Wilkes 69, Forbush 68 (OT)
Tuesday • at East Bend
East Wilkes 17 15 18 9 10 — 69
Forbush 16 18 9 16 9 — 68
EAST WILKES — Erin Royal 10, Samantha Adams 22, Brittany Diorio 8, Kendra Green 9, Keyonta Lineberger 1, Lauren Royal 13, Jaclyn Grit 2, Kassi Money 4.
FORBUSH — Lindsey Williams 13, Hannah Lineberry 6, Katelynd Caudle 8, Kaitlin Thompson 4, Meghan Luffman 24, Savannah Hill 2, Brandy Stanley 2, Leslie Long 9.