North Forsyth girls basketball coach Brad Kudlas wasn’t impressed by what he was seeing early Friday night.
In the first quarter of the Raiders’ first-round playoff game against Lakeside-DeKalb, he had every reason to be a little concerned. The team that had won three-straight Region 5-7A titles with two Final Four appearances just looked flat, turning the ball over multiple times and just not finding the rim like they’d been accustomed to doing.
In the middle of the first quarter, the Raiders, a team that had lost just twice during the regular season, trailed the No. 4-seeded Vikings by four points. With 2:38 left in the opening quarter, Kudlas called a timeout.
“We just had to tell them to wake up,” Kudlas said. “We just had to get going. That just wasn't Raider basketball — that wasn't what we've been doing. It's tough when you have that whole week off. We came from the excitement of that region championship and then we're having a whole week to get ready and keep them focused. It can be difficult.”
It didn’t take long for the Raiders to heed his words, though. By the end of the frame, North had regained its lead after a 13-1 run, and by the end of the game, North had punched its ticket to the second round with a more expected result, a lopsided 68-46 victory.
The Raiders (26-2) will host North Cobb for the second round on Wednesday.
“It was definitely frustrating, but as a team I think we came together really well and saw that we needed to pick it up once we got down,” North senior Ansley Allen said.
The Raiders took an early lead to start the game, but a 7-0 run from Lakeside put North behind 10-6 before Kudlas rallied his team. Right after the timeout, Allen, Haelim Adle and Caroline Martin all pitched in for a 19-11 lead entering the second.
Kudlas had to look to his bench for some minutes throughout the game, with the Raiders needing to adjust to a heavily officiated game. North had seven fouls after the first quarter, with Allen and Martin each needing to sit at times throughout the first half.
“When the seniors get fouls, they know how to play with two or three fouls,” Kudlas said. “Ansley did a great job — I think she played the whole second quarter with two. We've got a deep bench, so when we bring in other people because of foul trouble, I have all the confidence in them.”
Senior Breanna Helms certainly answered that bell, connecting on a wide-open three to start North’s second quarter. Toward the end of the first half, the Raiders began to find more success from behind the arc, with Allen, Lily Bales and McCall Thomas all hitting 3-pointers to propel North to a 40-24 halftime lead.
The hot shooting continued to start the second half, with Bales and Martin extending North’s streak of consecutive threes to four after Thomas ended the first half with two in a row.
“That's a big booster for us,” Kudlas said. “When you knock one of those down, everybody's got the energy level. The defense gets a little bit better and in turn, you get a steal and you get another knockdown. You just start feeding off of each other.”
For the rest of the game, North was in full command, leading 62-29 at the end of the third before most of the starters were pulled in the fourth. Allen and Martin led the way for the Raiders, with 19 points each.
“Definitely towards the end, I thought everyone was doing what they needed to do, and as a team we were working together well,” Allen said. “I think that was the big difference (and) what gave us that big lead.”
But while the end result was what the Raiders wanted, it was still a valuable experience for a team that has become accustomed to big moments in the past two years.
“There's no easy games from here on out,” Kudlas said. “Everybody we play or could potentially play from here on out is top 10 in the state, so I think we've got one of the hardest brackets. The girls know that, and I think we're going to be ready.
“This was a good wake-up call for them. They realized it's win or go home, so they're going to be ready on Wednesday.”