BUFORD — Catherine Shope caught a pass, dribbled and stepped to the side to clear space for a three-pointer, just as she did many times this season, her first in the GHSA's Class 7A after playing her first three years of high school in the relatively tiny ranks of the GICAA.
This shot went in, swishing through from the right wing to put the North Forsyth girls basketball team where few expected them to be, leading nationally-ranked Westlake 36-33 in the fourth quarter of the state semifinals.
"I really thought, at the end, that we were going to win," Raiders sophomore guard Caroline Martin said.
But the Lions were bigger, longer and bouncier than North, and the 11-0 run that followed Shope's three-pointer proved that. Westlake came away with a 52-44 win over the Raiders on Saturday evening at the Buford City Arena, putting an end to the best season in North's history.
The Raiders (28-3) eschewed many of their most prominent traits on Saturday, taking a deliberate approach on offense, rather than a volume-shooting one, and only sparingly using the full-court press that frustrated the rest of the Forsyth County ranks during the region schedule. North head coach Eric Herrick was aiming for a final score in the 40s or low 50s, and that's what he got.
North took a 13-9 lead early in the first quarter, but from that point until the Lions' run late in the fourth quarter, neither team led by more than a basket. Whether it was due to the pressure of the moment, the deeper-than-usual backdrop behind the baskets or simple variance, North shot colder than usual – Shope's 2-for-10 night from long range was evidence of that – but Westlake only shot 41 percent itself, often settling for jumpers instead of looks closer in.
"Playing in a venue like this, the shooting's not going to be as good, with all the space back there," Herrick said. "But they're shooting at the same basket we are, so you can't make that excuse."
Even with her off night from distance, though, Shope led the Raiders with 17 points, leaning on the frantic, high-effort offensive style that made her the top scorer in the county this season. She kept North within striking distance late, drawing a foul on a three-pointer and another on a drive to the hoop to make the score 47-42 with 48 seconds to go, keeping the hope of an upset alive.
Shope was the last player to leave North's locker room after the game, and her red eyes and tired voice showed her disappointment at the result. She kept it in context though: Herrick brought Shope in to score, and that's what she did all season long, serving as an essential piece of one of the best teams in county history.
"I'm just happy I was able to be a part of that this year," Shope said.