The ball whipped around the perimeter from one Starr’s Mill player to the next, and Forsyth Central couldn’t keep up. Michaela Cushing caught the final pass, set her feet and nailed a 3-pointer.
The Lady Panthers did it again, and the Lady Bulldogs were too slow to rotate. Alli Jones made them pay with another 3.
Starr’s Mill did it once more, befuddling Central with crisp passes across the court that wound up to Jones for 3, and with one agonizing third-quarter sequence the Lady Bulldogs lost control for an eventual 54-43 loss Monday in the Gold Bracket of the Wolverine Winter Classic at Vickery Creek Middle School.
“This was definitely a step back, which is not what we want,” Central head coach Angela Hurt said.
The loss was Central’s fifth straight, a disconcerting trend, but they have all been the right kind of losses – that is to say, non-region ones.
The losing streak has offered the Lady Bulldogs (4-9) all versions of defeats. There had been a few mind-boggling ones to Pinecrest Academy (49-48) and White County (36-32). There had been explainable ones to talented teams in Lakeview Academy and Sequoyah.
Central was coming off an encouraging one. The Lady Bulldogs lost 42-27 to Duluth on Saturday in the Lady Bulldogs’ opening game of the Wolverine Winter Classic, but Hurt liked the tenacity her team displayed against a Duluth team that has made three straight state tournament appearances.
Duluth had advantages in athleticism, depth and talent, but Central made it worry. Here was progress, Hurt thought, and at the best time. The second half of the region schedule is just a week away, and the Lady Bulldogs await a critical showdown with Sprayberry on Jan. 6 with both teams tied for first place in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B.
But Monday, inside the dark gym at Vickery Creek Middle, first place felt far away.
Central couldn’t build on an early 10-2 lead, eventually falling behind 16-15 by halftime when Jones drove the length of the court with 4.3 seconds left and hit a 3 at the buzzer.
Then it couldn’t defend Starr’s Mill’s outside shooting, particularly on that lethal sequence in the third quarter.
Central’s Julie Richards (18 points, eight rebounds) had just made a free throw to cut the Lady Panthers’ ever-widening lead to 25-22, the game still for the taking. Instead, Cushing and Jones (20 points, six rebounds) made three consecutive 3s, stretching Starr’s Mill’s lead to 34-22.
“That was lazy defense,” Hurt said. “We were walking and just going through the motions. We were able to defend Duluth who is much quicker and more athletic and shot the ball probably better than [Starr’s Mill].
“But we were being lazy and not doing what we’re supposed to. We were going through the motions, and when you’re going through the motions then people hit shots.”
All sorts of concerns surfaced Monday. Central went almost 14 minutes without a field goal, including the entire third quarter. It went just 15 of 28 from the free-throw line. It committed 14 turnovers. Leading scorer Abbey Fagan was held to just eight points. Senior forward Peyton Ledford (12 rebounds) helped the Lady Bulldogs out-rebound Starr’s Mill, 32-20, but it rarely produced any second chance points.
Monday’s performance only produced more questions for Central, leaving Tuesday’s finale in the Wolverine Winter Classic against the Alpharetta-Upson Lee winner as the last chance to get answers before the games start to really count again.