CANTON — Something always kept North Forsyth’s girls from finishing off No. 4-ranked Cherokee.
An offensive rebound at the end of regulation, a series of turnovers midway through the first overtime period and a missed basket near the end of the extra period all played a role.
More than anything else, it was Audrisha Williams making play after play to keep the Lady Warriors’ winning streak — and their season — alive.
Williams, Cherokee’s 6-foot-2 junior center, tallied 31 points and 22 rebounds to lift the Lady Warriors to their 23rd consecutive win, a 65-53 double overtime victory over North Forsyth in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Friday at Cherokee High School. North’s season is now complete.
"She just throws it up there and goes and gets it, throws it up there and goes and gets it and keeps battling," Lady Raiders head coach Eric Herrick said. "She’s just a big-time athlete and we struggled to guard her and struggled to keep the ball out of her hands."
North (24-6) led throughout most of the first half and carried a 24-19 advantage into halftime before Cherokee (29-1) gained control in the third quarter and pulled ahead 37-31 going into the final period.
The Lady Raiders held Cherokee without another point through more than five minutes of the fourth quarter and pulled ahead 42-41 on a 3-pointer by Caroline Bowns (team-high 23 points) with a little more than a minute remaining.
Cherokee ran the clock down under 30 seconds before Kiana Howell (18 points) missed a layup, allowing North’s Carlin Light to grab the rebound and draw a foul with 23.9 seconds left. Light made the first but missed the second and Cherokee gained possession before calling a timeout with 9.6 seconds remaining.
The Lady Raiders’ first shot attempt was off the mark, but Howell atoned for her miss moments earlier by grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring on the put-back with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
Herrick felt that the absence of center Avery Scarbrough (10 points), who drew her fifth foul earlier in the fourth quarter, made the difference on the play.
"With Avery fouling out at the end of regulation we just didn’t have that body to rebound the basketball right there at the end of regulation," Herrick said.
"We’re one stop away, pulling one rebound with 0.2 seconds away from the elite eight and the ball didn’t bounce our way."
Cherokee out-rebounded North 41-29 overall.
The Lady Raiders ran out to a quick 48-43 lead in overtime behind a 3-pointer from senior Kim Blake and a pair of free throws by Bowns, but Cherokee answered with a quick 6-0 run to pull ahead 49-48.
Bowns knocked down a 3-pointer to put North ahead one last time, 51-49 with 1:19 remaining in overtime, before Williams tied the game on a pair of free throws with 59.5 seconds on the clock.
North tried to play for the last possession, but Lochlain Corliss missed a baseline shot with six seconds remaining. Williams grabbed the rebound and raced to the other end of the court but couldn’t get a shot off, sending the game to double overtime tied 51-51.
The Lady Raiders didn’t seem to have anything left in the tank in the second OT, as their last points of the game came on a pair of free throws by Okwunne Ogbogu 41 seconds into the period.
Cherokee pulled ahead 55-53 in double overtime when Williams assisted Morgan Darby on a basket. Williams then stole the ball on North’s next possession and converted a transition layup.
The Lady Chiefs forced the Lady Raiders into another quick turnover on the ensuing possession and Williams, who hadn’t even had time to make it up the court after her layup, caught the ball on the other end of the floor and dropped in another basket to push the lead to 59-53 with 2:11 on the clock.
North struggled to get an open look on its next possession and allowed 52 seconds to tick off the clock before turning the ball over again with 1:19 remaining. Cherokee was then able to seal the victory at the free-throw line.
The Lady Raiders will lose four seniors — Blake, Light, Dallas Dante and Cailey Abercrombie — to graduation this spring.
"It’s emotional," Herrick said of the loss. "I’ve never been around a team with chemistry like these girls ... [they] do everything together. I guarantee after this game there’s going to be 15 girls at one house having the time of their lives. The journey doesn’t end here; those four seniors have made friendships that will last a lifetime."
Things also appear bright for North for the foreseeable future.
The Lady Raiders have gone 45-15 since Herrick took over as head coach prior to the 2011-12 season and haven’t lost consecutive games during that time. They’ve broken the single season program win record each of the last two years and will return three of their four leading scorers to the team next season in the form of Corliss, Bowns and Scarbrough.
"We’re going to miss those [seniors]," Herrick said. "Kim Blake is such a competitor ... every time we need a big shot she’s the kid who hits it, but the cupboard [won’t be] empty.
"We’ve got three leading scorers coming back and the thing about those three kids, they’ll be in the gym in a couple days getting better. As good as Caroline and Lochlain and Avery are, you’re going to see three kids that are even better next year."