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Basketball: Bretz pushes Central girls past West to advance to region finals

When Forsyth Central freshman Jillian Bretz was fouled with less than two seconds left in the Bulldogs’ second round region tournament matchup with West Forsyth, she began to shake as she felt the weight of a season on her shoulders.

With the Bulldogs down just one point with a chance to go to the Region 5-7A finals on the line, she was about to attempt the two most consequential shots of her young high school career. As she stood in the huddle before her climactic moment, her teammates and head coach Angela Hurt gave her the biggest boosts of confidence they could give.

“They all gave me a lot of courage,” Bretz said. “Coach Hurt told me if she had to choose anyone to make a shot to win the game, it would be me. That gave me a lot of confidence, and my teammates just kept picking me up.”

Still, as she walked to the free throw line, there was still that little sliver of doubt. But after banking the first shot, much of those nerves subsided, and when she made her second, the Bulldogs all screamed in unison. After a failed attempt by West to inbound the ball and get it to the other end, Central celebrated a 42-41 victory, their second thrilling win over the Wolverines this season.

Central will play the winner of Wednesday’s North Forsyth-South Forsyth game for the region title on Friday night. The victory also secured a home playoff game for the Bulldogs, an accomplishment that was as unheard of as making the playoffs just a few seasons ago. After coming up short in similar circumstances to the Wolverines in the tournament last year, the victory was all the more sweeter.

“I think our best thing was how we started,” Hurt said. “We looked better prepared, and our girls were just playing with that confidence.

“Finally, it fell in our direction this time.”

Much like their first matchup of the season, the game’s fourth quarter was a wild one, with four lead changes. Ansley Carver hit a three to give Central a 36-30 lead to open the quarter, but after West’s Cayla Cowart connected on two shots, and after a key three from Kalie Thrower with 1:50 left to play, the game was tied at 37-37.

With 1:20 left, Maggie Quincy gave West its first lead of the game with two free throws, but Bretz responded with a three for the lead back at 40-39. With just under a minute left, Cowart rebounded a Kalie Thrower three-point attempt and cashed in under the bucket to give her team the lead back again, setting up the thrilling finish.

“When they took a lead, instead of freaking out, we kept our senses,” Hurt said.

Central came out with plenty of energy in the first quarter, jumping out to an early 12-2 lead after buckets from Aisha Dabo and Bretz. With 1:52 left in the first, Ansley Carver added a three to put the Bulldogs up by a commanding 15-2 score.

The Wolverines knew there was plenty of basketball left, and they spent the rest of the first half making the game competitive. By the end of the first quarter, West had narrowed their deficit to 17-7, and behind buckets from Kassidy Kimbro, Quincy and Calie Thrower, the Wolverines narrowed Central’s lead to 29-22 at halftime. West’s rebounding improved greatly in the third, which helped the Wolverines’ comeback almost come to fruition.

“We had really good fight, but we didn’t get off to a good start,” West coach David May said. “We gave up 19 points in the first quarter and 23 for the rest of the game. We did a good job of keeping ourselves in it, but we didn’t make any winning plays in the first quarter.”

Central’s already made plenty of history during their tournament run. Time will tell if they can make even more.

“I’m so pumped,” Bretz said. “I’m excited for the team and for coach Hurt, just because (all of this) hasn’t happened in a while.”