Forsyth Central’s girls basketball team knew it was coming.
As the Bulldogs made their way to the locker room at halftime on Friday night, South Forsyth’s Kayla Casey laid on the ground in pain after contact caused her to crash to the hardwood during the last play of the first half. A non-call from the officials on the play fired the rest of the War Eagles up. South coach Keith Gravitt kicked a loose ball towards the bottom of the stands as he made his way to his waiting squad.
The Bulldogs heard the emotion from behind their locker room doors during the break. They knew the War Eagles were about to take their frustrations out on them.
“It’s just being able to learn to control that: when a team gets that momentum, not freaking out yourself,” Central coach Angela Hurt said. “That’s what we talked about between quarters.”
That foresight was not enough to stop the War Eagles’ initial second-half surge, but the Bulldogs did enough to hang on for a win despite some late mistakes, taking a 53-48 victory over the War Eagles on Friday night. The win puts the Bulldogs at 4-0 in Region 5-7A play.
“I don’t know if we played very smart down the line and we struggled making our free throws,” Hurt said. “But in the end, we ended it up pulling it out. For us, that’s a big deal because we beat Lambert and now we beat South, and since I’ve been here, we haven’t done either one of those things.”
After the fateful play, South, down 31-19 at the half, began the third quarter with a 14-1 run, with Olivia Woodison and Ashley Breindl making threes during that stretch to help briefly give the War Eagles a one-point lead with 1:30 left in the period.
Central’s Aisha Dabo, who has become a key part of the Bulldogs’ attack in her first year at the school, quickly took the advantage back a play later with an intercepted pass that turned into an uncontested bucket. Morgan Day made a three right before the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 39-35 lead heading into the fourth.
The Bulldogs continued to hold their slim lead as the game’s final minutes ticked away, despite their own mistakes. Central missed 11 of 19 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, which gave South a chance to sneak back in front. However, the War Eagles couldn’t quite take advantage of their own chances.
“We’ve got to do the little things,” Gravitt said. “We haven’t, and that’s been something all year long, but we haven’t had a close game. This was a great opportunity for our team to see how those little things matter.”
Central started the game on an 8-0 run, with Aisha Dabo leading the way during the stretch. South could not find the same success inside the paint that the Bulldogs did early on, but South’s Ryane Williams made a three with 5:11 left in the first to break the War Eagles’ scoreless streak.
After Dabo increased Central’s lead to 12-5 after taking a steal to the bucket uncontested, South was still able to get back in contention early, narrowing their deficit to 16-10 after one frame. Ansley Carver added two threes in the second quarter to help keep Central’s lead a comfortable one until the second half began. Dabo led Central with 23 points on the night, while Breindl scored 20 for South.
With the kind of start Central has put together, the Bulldogs are in position to challenge North Forsyth for the region crown. Now it's just a matter of keeping it up.
“We want to make history,” Dabo said. “I think under coach Hurt’s lead, we’re on the right track.”
Forsyth Central boys 43, South Forsyth 42
South held the lead for most of the game, going up 10-2 by the end of the first quarter, but Central did just enough to remain within striking distance, down 23-17 at the half.
As the fourth quarter began, the Bulldogs were down just five. Jackson Leak tied the game with 2:51 to play with a free throw. South's Thomas Stocks gave his team a slim 42-40 lead with just 19.8 seconds to play, but the Bulldogs' Brandon Sherer was fouled for a chance at a three point-play on an ensuing basket. He made the ensuing free throw, giving Central a slim one-point edge.
South still had a chance to steal the game away after a couple of missed Central free throws, but with two seconds left, the War Eagles couldn't get a shot in off a full-court pass, and Central secured its third overall win of the season and its first Region 5-7A victory of the year.
Sherer and Joakeim Celestin led the Bulldogs with nine points each. Devin McGlockton scored 17 for the War Eagles.