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Basketball: North girls hope to be next county team to make deep playoff run
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North Forsyth girls basketball coach Eric Herrick, left, and Raiders players reacts in the Region 5-7A championship on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography

The North Forsyth girls basketball team has had it both ways this year: never discounting the next game, but also keeping a long-term goal in mind.

Until Feb. 9, that goal was to run the table through the region schedule and win the region championship. Then the Raiders beat South Forsyth to win the title, and the focus turned towards the state tournament and the matchups there.

“All the brackets are tough,” Raiders head coach Eric Herrick said. “But I like our bracket.”

That’s one factor in favor of a team that hopes to be the next county squad to reach the state semifinals.

The Raiders are one of eight No. 1 seeds in the state tournament, and they have the second-lowest GHSA power ranking among those seeds. But the other top seed that North would have to go through to reach the semifinals is Lowndes, the only one with a power ranking lower than the Raiders.

North’s first-round matchup against Mountain View, the team with the second-highest power ranking out of Region 6-7A, is one of the trickier 1-4 matchups in the bracket. The Raiders could also conceivably face second-seeded Hillgrove, whom they beat by just two points back in November, in the quarterfinals.

But their bracket could be much worse. The next logical step for assessing North’s capability for a deep run would be to compare them to South Forsyth in 2014 and West Forsyth in 2016, the last two county teams to make it that far. One difference is obvious: The lack of a University of Maryland-bound superstar.

Those War Eagles had six-foot guard Sarah Myers, albeit as a sophomore, and the Wolverines had dominant post Jenna Staiti, who dropped 51 points against McEachern in West’s semifinal loss in 2016. And while North sophomore Caroline Martin is an uncommonly talented combo guard, one that Herrick hopes to be able to run the team’s offense through in the future, she isn’t at the level of Myers or Staiti.

Of course, that’s not entirely a bad thing.

“I don’t think it’s a weakness,” Herrick said. “When you have one superstar, it’s a lot easier to scout you.”

The Raiders’ hallmark is depth, and they have more of that than those South and West teams, playing as many as 10 players in their rotation. Because of that, they can break out a full-court press at any time and keep it going longer than most by shuffling players in and out. And while North’s contributors are a mix of upperclassmen and younger players, they’ve developed chemistry that overshadows age differences.

“If someone's having an off night, we can put someone else in, mix it up and see how that line does,” senior forward Cassie Markle said. “You could put any of our team together, and we'd still have the same chemistry.”

The Raiders don’t necessarily have to look outside their own gym to find a model for a long postseason run: Their 2013-14 squad beat the South team that made the semifinals, and those Raiders made it to the state quarterfinals, where they lost to Archer. North didn’t lose a game until Jan. 18 that year and entered the postseason with a 26-2 record. The present-day Raiders are 24-2.

That team was different in multiple ways from this year’s Raiders: Its talent was concentrated more in the post, with Caroline Bowns and Avery Scarbrough, and wasn’t quite as deep as Herrick’s current squad. But that team had a certain intangible quality that Herrick is still trying to replicate.

“That team back then just had a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude that we’re still, late in the season, trying to sell (our players) on,” Herrick said.

Whether the Raiders have bought in will become clear in the next few weeks.