By MacKenzie Bates
For the Forsyth County News
Some of the players on the Forsyth Central boys basketball team were not even born the last time the Bulldogs were in the state playoffs.
That changes next week.
Central punched its ticket to state for the first time since 2001 on Tuesday night, as they forced 19 turnovers that turned in to 20 points in their 53-39 win over South Forsyth in the opening round of the Region 5-7A tournament.
“We just came together as a team and pulled it out,” sophomore Jake Craft said. “We wanted to get to state for Coach (Greg) Dirst. We’ve worked hard all year for this. It feels great.”
“I loved our energy,” Dirst said. “Joakeim (Celestin), Brandon (Sherer) and Jake Craft set the tone. I can’t say enough about Jackson Leak’s defense on (South’s Devin) McGlockton. We kept changing it up and Giovanni Joseph and Akeem Washington played well. We’re just so excited to be heading to the state playoffs for the first time since 2001.”
The Bulldogs (7-19) opened each possession of the first half with a steal and score. Jackson Leak hit a three-point basket in the first quarter, while Akeem Washington cashed in on a War Eagle miscue. The lead swelled to 28-14 before War Eagle junior Nate Hammond beat the buzzer on a runner in the lane.
“We made shots and the coach always looks smart when the team makes shots,” Dirst said. “You work for a good shot and sometimes it doesn’t go in. We had to get off to a good start against South. That hurt us against them during the season. They outscored us 31-7 in the first quarter during our two games this year.”
Forsyth Central took its biggest lead late in the third quarter after back-to-back triples by Jackson Leak at 46-27. Leak scored 12 points on four of Central’s six three-pointers.
South Forsyth opened up the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run on baskets by Devin McGlockton and Thomas Stocks. Stocks scored 13 points, while McGlockton finished the game with 11 points.
“The 1-2-2 (zone defense) has given us trouble all year,” South head coach Scott Givens said. “But give credit to Central. They played it in the half court, three-quarter quart. I just didn’t have them prepared enough.”
Central shot 50 percent from the field (20-for-40). Junior Brandon Sherer finished with a team-high 13 points. South Forsyth ends the season at 11-15.
“I’m just sorry it ended like this for our seniors,” Givens said. “We’ve been to the state tournament each of the last three years. This is the youngest and most inexperienced team I’ve been a part of in 19 years as a coach. We did a lot of a good things and we’re ahead of schedule. We’ll be alright and I hope the seniors know how much they’ve meant to this program.”
Central will play Milton in the region semifinals Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The Eagles won both regular season matchups, defeating the Bulldogs 55-34 on Dec. 11 and 76-50 on Jan. 18.
“We have to play with the same energy like we did tonight,” Craft said. “We’ve got to make shots. We’ve struggled with that all year but if we can make shots like we did (against South), we’ve got a chance.”