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Dodging a bullet
War Eagles withstand Smith’s 32-point effort
N vs S girls bbll 1 es
North Forsyth forward Keeley Chester gets off a shot over South Forsyth’s Stephanie Storms (5) and Katie Onushko (23) on Tuesday night during the Lady Raiders’ 51-49 victory in the Eagles’ Nest. - photo by Emily Saunders
On the individual front, Tuesday night clearly belonged to Riley Smith.

On the team front, though, it was South Forsyth who excelled.

The War Eagles landed four players in double figures and smothered visiting North Forsyth defensively in the first half, withstanding a 32-point performance from North's hot-handed guard to beat the Raiders 69-54.

The first two quarters set the tone, as South (9-13 overall, 7-8 Region 7-AAAAA) came out pressing and seemed to overwhelm the Raiders (10-12, 4-11) early on. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 13-4. North shook off the doldrums a bit in the second period, thanks largely to three three-pointers from Smith (who nailed seven for the game), but the Eagles still held a comfortable 30-16 lead at halftime.

"That's always nice to have a lead like that," South coach David Sokol said.

"There's going to be times in the game where you have lapses, maybe turn the ball over or become complacent at times and it's good to have that cushion. We haven't enjoyed that much this year."

Sokol said Chris Rowley, usually a bench player, put a starting opportunity to good use with his aggressive defensive play in the first quarter.

North coach Bobby Pless said the effort from both teams was about as intense as he expected.

"We got off to a slow start in the first quarter and had some close defensive stops where we tried for a charge and double team, but didn't come up with the breaks early. South played well and they got to loose balls early," Pless said.

South's cushion came in handy, as it turned out, with North closing the margin to seven in the final two minutes.

"I thought our kids played a strong second half, and both teams were basically even basket for basket after halftime," Pless said.

"We had our chances, but on the road you need to convert foul shots, eliminate turnovers, and take advantage of runs. We put three good runs together, but a couple of miscues took the window of opportunity away."

Sokol credited Kevin Bibler (10 points) for helping boost the team down the stretch by knocking down free throws, diving for loose balls and securing rebounds.

"Give North credit, they played hard and battled back. We couldn't stop their point guard," Sokol said, referring to Smith.

"He played well. It was hard to stop him. He's improved a lot these three years."

North coach Bobby Pless credited Smith for his all-around effort.

"I love the way he is playing both sides of the ball defensively and offensively. That's what good players do — defend, play team ball, and make plays, and he has been fantastic to coach and watch play," Pless said.

Derek Zittrauer's 21 points led South. Jonathan Sauls (12 points) and Nick Grant (11) both scored in double figures for the War Eagles.

Chris Smith added 11 points for North.

Both teams are home for region contests Friday night. North plays host to North Gwinnett, while South welcomes Collins Hill.

North (girls) 51, South 49

For the second time this season, South Forsyth and North Forsyth went down to the wire — and for the second time, the Lady Raiders found a way to pull it out.

South's girls went on a late fourth-quarter run, but simply ran out of time in their attempt to come back, as visiting North held on 51-49.

The score was eerily similar to the teams' first meeting in December, when North beat South in Coal Mountain 50-48.

"When it started looking bleak [for them], South's effort level just went through the roof and ... I'm proud of our girls being able to match their intensity, because I know that was one they really wanted. I'm glad we were able to step up and match their intensity," North coach Jack Sarfaty said.

The teams traded baskets in an entertaining first quarter that ended with South (7-15 overall, 3-12 Region 7-AAAAA) on top 14-13, but North (8-14, 4-11) steadily built a small lead through the second and third periods. North's biggest lead of the game came at 35-25 late in the third, before South climbed back.

In the end, the clock just ran out for the Lady Eagles. Down three with four seconds to play, South's Nicole Rosanwo was fouled and put on the line for two free throws. She missed the first and hit the second, which gave North the inbounds.

The Lady Raiders played keep away for those closing seconds, refusing to allow South to get a foul in before the buzzer.

"I felt like if we just got rid of the ball where they couldn't foul us, then we could just run the clock out, and that's what we did," Sarfaty said.

South coach Keith Gravitt lamented missed opportunities during the game, particularly his team's 11-of-24 showing from the free throw line.

"You can't shoot 50 percent from the free throw line and win close games. ... I impressed upon them that games don't come down to the last possession. There's a lot of shots, there's lots of defensive opportunities through the game, turnovers, different things that happen that lead up to that, that are just as important as that last shot," Gravitt said.

The win was North's second straight, after the Lady Raiders snapped an 11-game losing streak by beating Dawson County Saturday.

"I think South is just a big game for us," said North senior Andrea Garnand, who scored eight points for the Lady Raiders.

"It's a must have in our county and ... especially coming from a losing streak, we had to get over that hump."

North junior Sydney Seitz (12 points) said getting the season sweep over South was "pretty awesome."

"That game, I'm pretty sure my offense was a little off, so I picked it up on defense," Seitz said.

Sarfaty hopes the win is a sign of improvement for his girls approaching the end of the regular season.

"I think it'll help us immensely. We went through such a long losing spell and now I think we've got it going in the right direction, and this is the right time," the coach said.

South's Stephanie Storms led all scorers with 14 points. Kirsten Ebert (12 points) and T.J. Howell (10) hit double figures for the Lady Eagles.

Callan Bennett led North with 13 points.

Both teams are home for region contests Friday night. North plays host to North Gwinnett, while South welcomes Collins Hill.