Forsyth Central still has a losing record in region play, but don't tell that to its players or head coach, Greg Dirst.
Avenging a one-point loss from early December, the Bulldogs (8-13, 3-5 Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B) used a 19-4 run through the fourth quarter to blow out North Atlanta, 69-49, at home on Tuesday night. Point guard Parker Biederer scored 18 points, often dazzling the crowd with nifty moves in the lane, and Cale Jackson shrugged off cold moments with streaky shooting to finish with 12 points.
Jon Richards scored 10 of his own on five field goals, and the Bulldogs tuned out some chippy plays late in the game as they ran away with the score. Central had to deal with the playmaking ability of North Atlanta's athletic and long forward Ezra Naylor Jr., who had the night's biggest play on a powerful tomahawk dunk, as well as strong shooting from the Warriors' shooting guard Messiah Thompson.
The Bulldogs led 17-14 at the end of the first and expanded their lead to 36-23 at halftime, then built a 46-29 advantage before the Warriors stormed back to make it 50-45 at the end of three. Monty Kurtz added six rebounds and eight points for the Bulldogs, while C.J. Smith hit two threes off the bench before leaving the game after hitting his head on the floor in the fourth quarter.
When the game was over, Dirst made no mistake: North Atlanta was a talented club. He thinks, despite the fact the Warriors are now 1-5 in region play, themselves, that the records in the bottom of the division standings do not reflect a “talented” league.
“We have an athletic region,” Dirst said. “Riverwood, Sprayberry and Kell are very athletic, and we're all pretty much asked to match that. We deal with athletic pressure a lot. Our kids handle it well, and did tonight.”
What matters most isn't records at this point, but quality of play, and Dirst was pleased with a blowout victory that contrasted a closer result against the same team earlier in the season. He hopes the Bulldogs, who will host the region tournament, can win the final four regular season games and create momentum toward a state playoff run.
“We want to be a state tournament team,” Dirst said. “The region tournament is here. We'd like to finish in the top three or four in the region, then get a few games and go to state. We'd love to end this on a 5-0 run.”
Meanwhile, Central's girls are in a similar situation. The Lady Bulldogs, with their dominant 68-24 win over North Atlanta Tuesday night, moved into second place at 5-3 in their division, tied with Sprayberry and trailing Kell, which beat them in overtime earlier in the year.
With more focus on getting the ball into the low block, Central dominated a raw North Atlanta team in the paint via post Julie Richards. Richards finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, while Sophie Kurtz scored 11 off the bench and Caroline Hearn had nine points before leaving the game after hitting her head on the floor.
Central head coach Angela Hurt hopes, with Hearn's return expected, that the team can finish the season with nothing but wins and create momentum toward the state playoffs.
“We feel really good about our last five games,” Hurt said. “We could be 13-12 if we win them, which would mean our program has a winning record for the first time in a while, so those are the goals. We could also push to be second in the region tournament, which will be here, so that would be a plus. So we are feeling good.
“We need Caroline (Hearn) back. She bumped her head pretty hard tonight. We'll see how she is. Hopefully she's okay by Friday.”
Central (9-12, 5-3) struggled early, leading just 8-5 at the end of the first quarter while both teams traded sloppy possessions. The Lady Bulldogs responded with 26 points in the second quarter, taking a 34-13 halftime lead that left North Atlanta frustrated and without answers.
“It's almost like we needed a few minutes to get comfortable,” Hurt said of the slow start. “But, when we do the things we practice, we play very well together.
“What I like to see is, whether we're up five or 25, I want us to look the same on the floor, and for the most part I felt like we did that tonight. We even got some minutes for some girls who don't play as much.”