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Basketball: North Forsyth girls blow out Habersham Central
North Forsyth's Erin Whalen fights through the Habersham Central defense during a Region 8-6A matchup Friday at home. (Photo by Nicholas Sullivan)

The team with "Raiders" emblazoned across the front of its jerseys got run out of Raider Arena. Thankfully for North Forsyth, the school doesn't have a monopoly on the mascot.

In a rematch of North Forsyth's only Region 8-6A loss, the host Raiders throttled the visiting Raiders from Habersham Central Friday by a 71-29 final score.

“I don’t think they expected it, because we shot so poorly last game,” senior Kamryn Gardner said of the offensive explosion. “We really shoved it in their face this time.”

That previous meeting also saw the two teams combine for 100 points. On that occasion, Habersham Central finished with a much less one-sided 55-45 victory.

Ninth-ranked North Forsyth seemed bound and determined to not let history repeat itself on their home court, on senior night and with a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the region tournament, which Habersham Central will host.

“There’s a lot of components that went into this night,” senior Erin Whalen said. “Losing to them was not acceptable. We took that back tonight.”

The loss to Habersham Central is North Forsyth's only defeat in a dozen 2023 games.

“The region is unpredictable,” senior Meredith Franklin said. “You never know who’s going to be hot and who’s not.”

However, there's no question who the hottest team in the region is at the moment.

Since the setback, the local Raiders (18-6, 10-1) have won seven straight games by an average margin of 41.3 points. That includes a 54-16 triumph over Apalachee, which will host North Forsyth's regular-season finale Feb. 7.

It could be said that the loss to Habersham Central — which came a day after North Forsyth knocked off then-undefeated Gainesville — lit a fire under head coach Brad Kudlas' group.

Gardner called the loss a "reality check," and since then, North Forsyth has outscored every region opponent by a larger margin in the second matchup of the season. 

Said Franklin, “In the end, I think it pushed us to work even harder, play even better and work as a team.”

That mindset appeared on full display from the opening tip.

North Forsyth took an early 9-0 lead behind a swarming defense, and Habersham Central didn't get on the scoreboard until the 1:31 mark of the first quarter.

By the end of the opening period, Whalen had racked up a dozen points and the hosts held a 14-4 lead.

With Habersham Central (15-7, 7-3) hanging around midway through the second period, Gardner connected on a pair of 3-pointers in quick succession to fuel a 15-4 run to close the half.

Armed with a 36-11 lead entering the third quarter, North Forsyth never let up.

Seven different players scored in the stanza for the locals, with Gardner finishing out her 11-point evening by knocking down another 3 and converting inside.

Overall, North Forsyth buried 11 treys. In addition to Gardner's trio, Whalen (24 total points), London Weaver (10) and Gabbie Gliatta (8) each sank a pair of long-range shots.

Even with a 57-23 advantage, Kudlas opted to begin the fourth quarter with his seniors on the floor. One by one, he subbed them out, hugged them and let the vociferous crowd recognize all they had accomplished in their careers.

“I’m really thankful for our student section,” Whalen said of the atmosphere, which included a mock ESPN table ran by North Forsyth wrestlers Reece Meyers and Reece Davis. “A lot of them are student-athletes, and they have practice. They come right out here after practice, and they really help out."

With the way North Forsyth has been playing, the expectation is that the team should be back on its home court in a couple of weeks for the Class 6A state tournament.

While there wouldn't be the same vengeful motivation, perhaps the chip on the team's shoulder would still remain.

“I think our crowd knew how big of a game this was, and they really showed out for that,” Gardner said. “We needed revenge. We needed to show who the real Raiders are in this region.”