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Basketball: Central girls roll past Milton to clinch first playoff berth in seven years

Over the last seven seasons, disappointment and heartbreak have been consistent companions for Forsyth Central’s girls basketball team.

Just two seasons ago, an appearance in the state playoffs was a far-off fantasy, with the Bulldogs finishing the year with a single win. Last season, Central was just seconds away from that goal in the region tournament, but a late game-winning shot from West Forsyth kept the Bulldogs waiting until next year, again.

So going into their newest chance to accomplish that elusive goal on Tuesday afternoon, head coach Angela Hurt and her squad couldn’t help but be cautious, even if their opponent was Milton, a last-place team that had yet to earn a win. But they weren’t going to get burned again.

“In the back of my mind, they almost beat South,” Hurt said. “It's, ‘Are they going to come today and play the same way?’ By all means, we weren't overlooking them.”

Unlike that South game, though, Central’s performance against Milton was much more predictable, with the Bulldogs overcoming a slow early first quarter to eventually take a dominating 59-32 win over the Eagles in the first round of the Region 5-7A tournament.

With the win, Central punched its ticket to the state playoffs for the first time since joining Class 7A, and for the first time since the 2011-12 season, when the Bulldogs made the second round.

“There's been multiple times that we've lost by one point to (lose out on) the state tournament,” Hurt said. “We wanted to be in the position that we just earned it, but we fell short of that. We've made up for it, and now we've put ourselves back into the position to be able to move on.”

It was a somewhat slow start for the Bulldogs, who got outrebounded very early in the first and had some issues shooting. Thankfully for them, though, so did Milton, and with 4:28 left in the first quarter, Aisha Dabo gave Central its first lead at 4-2. Jillian Bretz then notched a three point play after getting fouled, and after Dabo added a layup in the final minute of the first, Central held a 13-3 lead at the buzzer.

The Bulldogs’ advantage only grew from there. Central opened the second quarter with a three, and after Milton scored from behind the arc for the first time, Bretz and Ansley Carver responded with threes to put the Bulldogs up 22-6. As Milton continued to struggle mightily from the field, Central began to get in rhythm. Dabo took an assist from Carver and turned it into a layup under the basket to make it 38-9 with just over 30 seconds left in the first half. Central entered the second half with a commanding 32-14 lead.

“We passed the ball really well together,” Bretz said. “Coach Hurt knew exactly what to do to be able to beat them.”

Milton didn’t come close to matching that dent in the scoreboard, with Central cruising through the second half for the easy win. Aisha Dabo led the Bulldogs with 16 points, while Elizabeth Pruitt and Bretz added 14 and 10, respectively.

Hurt credits Central’s feeder team, which was non-existent upon her arrival, as a big factor in her team’s progression over the last couple of years. Bretz, just a freshman, is excited to be a part of the revival, and hopes it can continue in the next round against West, a team that Central knows all too well on this stage.

“It's really cool to be a part of the team now,” Bretz said. “West is a big rival of ours. (Beating them) would be amazing.”