Brad Kudlas and the North Forsyth girls basketball team received a belated Christmas gift Friday night.
The Raiders kept their perfect region record intact with a 53-37 win against Denmark, a victory that marked the return of Anna Gliatta.
Gliatta made her presence felt in the second half of Friday's win, scoring all eight of her points in the fourth quarter while making an impact on defense and at the rim.
"She did really well," Kudlas said. "She just got back from being quarantined, so that's her first game back since December. I think in the first half she was able to shake off some of the rust and get back into it and back to herself. She's one of our leaders. She's a big leader. We were missing on of our other leaders tonight, so it's survival of the fittest right now."
Gliatta scored on back-to-back tough layups that sent the Raiders' point guard crashing to the floor. She was fouled on her third trip to the rim, converting 1 of 2 free throws, before stealing the ball back from Denmark and drawing another foul.
Gliatta then knocked down a 3-point shot to cap the 11-0 fourth-quarter run, and by the time Mary Kate Leonard's bucket halted the skid, North held a 50-28 lead with 3:12 left in the game.
Ella Holbrook led the Raiders with 10 points, while Maddie Erickson had eight and Abby Gravitt added seven.
The Raiders were tough to handle on the glass for Denmark, which played without Jessie DeNardo, who recently reached 500 career rebounds.
"We played without Jessie tonight and it showed on the boards," Denmark coach Jaime Maxey said. "We got hurt on the boards quite a bit. They did a great job of crashing. When you give a team six opportunities, they're bound to score eventually. That was tough for us."
Freshman Emma Hempker scored a career-high 20 points for the Danes and has reached double digits six times this season.
"Not a lot of freshmen have that pressure put on them to score the ball," Maxey said. "I think she's starting to figure out, 'I can score the ball consistently, I can shoot the ball and I can take it to the rim.' She did a great job tonight."
It was a Hempker free throw that snapped a 12-0 Denmark run in the first half. Hempker knocked down a 3-point shot minutes later and finished with three 3-pointers.
Hempker is one of three freshmen on Denmark's roster — Mary Kate Leonard and Kylie Morris.
Morris stepped up in DeNardo's absence and made an impressive hustle play at the end of the second quarter when she saved an out-of-bounds ball and bounced it off a North player. Morris scored off the inbound pass, then converted the and-one after a foul.
"Kylie, she's still young and new to the game, but she's really aggressive and really athletic," Maxey said. "She's starting to figure out, 'OK, I can score the ball, I can create,' and that's what we've been working with her on the past couple weeks. Just having that confidence as a freshman to maybe not get the ball every possession and know that you're quick enough to score. She does a great job guarding, she does a great job rebounding for us and she plays hard."
North owns only two losses this season — Cherokee, Loganville — despite the departure of a decorated senior class.
Kudlas gives much of the credit to the Raiders' junior class, while acknowledging the contributions of North's underclassmen.
"Everybody's been in the program one year. We have a big junior class that's stepped up," Kudlas said. "I feel like they've learned a lot from the previous groups. They did a great job for us kind of setting the tone and what's expected. A lot of sophomores are stepping up and playing big roles. We still have our growing pains. You see a lot of 'do a great thing, see a silly thing.' They're coming along. The goal is to be ready by February."
Similar to Denmark, North played without one of its starters in Haelim Adle, who has emerged as one of the Raiders' top scoring threats this season.
Kudlas is hopeful she can return and the Raiders can roll out their starting five soon, just as Maxey hopes.
"I don't think we've played one region game with our full starting lineup yet — probably no one in our region has," Maxey said. "I'm hoping that by then we're going to be healthy, and I think that's a common theme this year: Whoever can stay healthy the longest is going to have a shot. Our county in girls basketball is tough. We're getting our young kids some minutes, and we're hoping that pays off in the long run."