Everybody in the building knew what was coming.
Seconds after tipoff, the ball was in the hands of Cherokee center Kate Johnson. She drove right to the hole, turned her back to the basket, then used her 6-foot-3 frame to back up Maddie Erickson until she was in range for an easy layup.
The basket electrified a packed gymnasium, allowing the Warriors to grab control early Tuesday and help hand North Forsyth a 53-47 loss in the Elite Eight.
“That’s a great team,” North Forsyth head coach Brad Kudlas said. “We’re playing with a bunch of girls who are just homegrown that have played together forever. We’ve got one of them going to play college ball, and we’re playing teams that have three, four, five going to college.”
Johnson’s layup was part of a 14-3 run for Cherokee. It put
the Raiders in a hole, but only for a few minutes.
Senior Ansley Allen knocked down North Forsyth’s first field goal with 2:05 left in the first quarter, and senior McCall Thomas ended the quarter with a 3-pointer to cut Cherokee’s lead to 14-11.
Allen and senior Caroline Martin each scored 20 points for the Raiders, with Allen pulling down 10 rebounds.
“The difference is, they had four people in double figures,” Kudlas said. “I don’t think we’ve lost a game when we’ve had three players in double figures all season. We just couldn’t get that next person going. And it’s always been somebody different stepping up. Tonight, we probably just didn’t find that person in time, because they’re sitting out there somewhere.”
Cherokee senior Ashlyn Andrus scored a team-high 16 points, including 13 points in the second half.
As forceful a matchup as Johnson presented, North Forsyth’s team of Erickson and Avery McAllister largely held Cherokee’s center in check for the final two quarters.
“I thought Maddie and Avery did an amazing job on her,” Kudlas said. “She just camped out in the paint, had a couple travels and stuff like that, but they fought hard. She’s tough down there. I felt like, for Maddie giving up a lot of strength on her and Avery giving up a lot of size, they did a great job.”
North Forsyth took control of the game in the second quarter, which ended seconds after Allen sank a 3-pointer from well behind the arc to give the Raiders a 23-21 halftime break.
The Raiders scored 12 points in the quarter, part of a 19-7 run that extended back to the end of the first quarter.
“I thought we got it going with our offense,” Kudlas said. “We got some things clicking, making some adjustments and different rotations there. And even in the fourth quarter, we got down big and the girls fought through it. They fought, fought. It felt like we just ran out of time. We kind of let time slip away.”
Cherokee senior Sydne Watts caught fire in the third quarter, scoring eight of her 12 points after halftime and helping the Warriors take a 33-27 lead midway through the third quarter.
Allen answered with a 3-pointer, then senior Vekondja Ogbogu took a charge to give possession back North Forsyth with a chance to tie, but the Raiders gave the ball back and allowed Cherokee to score 11 straight points to regain control.
North Forsyth amped up the pressure in the fourth quarter and managed to make it a two-possession game in the final minute after a three and a bucket from Martin, but Andrus was sent to the free-throw line and knocked down both shots to make it 51-47 with 0:26 left.
“These girls, well, they’re going to be great in life,” Kudlas said. “They’re just going to persevere, because that’s just who they are. They fought for each other (and) they fought for the family. That’s probably the thing that hurts the most: You’re just not going to see them on a daily basis.”