As North Forsyth’s girls basketball team walked into Buford City Arena for their Final Four matchup on Saturday afternoon, almost everything was familiar.
It was the same round, the same venue, and even the same opponent as last season — a dominant and undefeated Westlake squad. The only thing that needed to be different was the ending.
But down 14 in second quarter the Class 7A state semifinals, the Raiders were feeling something that wasn’t familiar — desperation. In the first half, the Raiders completed just two field goals, with Westlake’s size and press overwhelming them.
Most of North’s plays that seemed positive initially rarely culminated in buckets. With 2:13 left until the break, Ansley Allen got a steal and sprinted to the corner, only to have Westlake’s Brianna Turnage run up behind her to block the shot. Those kinds of plays were numerous and expected, but even preparation didn’t help the Raiders.
“The pressure and everything, we knew what we were expecting,” Vekondja Ogbogu said. “It’s tough going out on the court and actually seeing it all over again.”
In the end, North couldn’t make the shots needed to compensate for their size disadvantage, and fell to the Lions 48-26 to end their season. It was a stark contrast to last year’s game, when the Raiders hung with the Lions to the very end behind their senior class, as well as a few players that could match Westlake size-wise.
“We got beat by a better team, bottom line,” North head coach Eric Herrick said. “They’re a lot better than us – best team in the state. They're strong at every position. Their point guard is as good as you'll see in the state. They're huge inside. That team's got four or five Division I players, so we got beat by a better team.”
Martin opened scoring for North with 5:52 left in the first quarter with a three, but it ended up being the Raiders’ only basket until Harley Helms made a jumper with 3:48 left in the second. North went 1-for-11 in three-point attempts in the first half. Westlake went on a 19-2 run to end the first half, holding a commanding 21-5 advantage at the break.
“They're much bigger at the guard spots than they were last year,” Herrick said. “We could match size – we had Cassie (Markle) and Kate (Perryman). We had six-foot and six-two who were ultra-athletic. You weren't going to get second shots. The big difference is just the size of our kids last year. We had enough size where we could contend inside.”
North was trying to be patient with their shot selection throughout the game, sometimes to their own detriment. North’s goal was to take every wide open shot and layup. With the shots just not going in, though, the Raiders sometimes passed on them, and with 6-foot-5 center Lydia Freeman manning the inside, driving into the lane wasn’t much of an option. The Raiders topped their entire first half point total with 13 in the third quarter, but they never came close to making it a competitive game late.
Despite the loss, the Raiders, who finished the season at 26-5, recognize their accomplishment. With almost everyone coming back for next year, they don’t see a reason why they can’t make their third appearance in a row.
“We really wanted to win but we knew the type of competition we were going up against,” Ogbogu said. “At the same time, we did our best, and to get here again is just an accomplishment to us. It's not something to be upset about, in a way. We're just so proud of each other and hope we can get back to the same spot next year and possibly win.”