The North Forsyth girls basketball team prepared as best as it could for Friday night’s matchup against Lambert. The Raiders knew that the Longhorns would try to take away Catherine Shope, their sharpshooting senior wing, so they had an assistant coach face-guard her during practice this week, preparing Shope for what Lambert’s Katie Schwind would do during the game.
But with about five minutes left in Thursday’s practice, Raiders forward Cassie Markle rolled her left ankle. She would spend Friday in a walking boot.
"We didn't have a lot of time to process (that)," North head coach Eric Herrick said. "She's a very integral part of our team. That kid fills up the stat sheet each and every night, and against a team like Lambert, that's somebody we really need."
With that injury, plus freshman post Kate Perryman getting into deep foul trouble, North was severely lacking in height on Friday. But, as Herrick put it, the Raiders weren’t short on heart, and they prevailed by a 46-45 margin to beat the Longhorns for the first time since January 2016.
With two of their main scoring threats taken away by strategy and injury, North took a methodical approach on offense early on and held a 20-17 lead at halftime. Shope, who made 11 three-pointers in the Raiders’ win over Chestatee, didn’t even take one until the third quarter.
"Herrick told me to just stay in the corner and cut and screen for others, which is what I did," Shope said. "And he told me to go and rebound, because usually Cassie's in there rebounding, (and) we didn't have her."
She was still very active at both ends, though, chasing second-chance points and crashing the boards, gathering nine rebounds in the game. Both Shope and sophomore guard Caroline Martin were especially complimentary of Bella Caracciolo’s defensive performance, as she was forced to take a prominent role down low.
"She's the best defender," Martin said of Caracciolo. "If you're guarded by her, it's very hard to get anything off."
North (8-1, 1-0 Region 5-7A) had a nine-point lead late in the third quarter, but Lambert came back in the fourth quarter and had the game tied at 43-43 with 47 seconds remaining. Shope made a free throw with 10 seconds left to make it 46-43, and Lambert (5-3, 0-1 Region 5-7A) couldn’t get a three-pointer off on the other end.
The win was particularly significant on multiple levels for North. It showed that the Raiders can hang with and best some of their top competition in the region, even while shorthanded. It also was a step towards full revenge on the Longhorns, whose one-point win to beat North in last season's region championship game has motivated the Raiders ever since.
"We wanted it so bad," Martin said. "Getting beat three times (last season), we were like, 'This is it.'"
Martin led all scorers with 20 points, and Shope had 14. Summer Edwards led Lambert with 14 points, and Skylar Aledia had 10.
Lambert boys 94, North Forsyth 74
The Longhorns got off to a rocky start on offense in the second game of the night, with North keeping pace and even leading for much of the second quarter, but the Longhorns eventually found their stroke from outside the arc and bested the Raiders in size and athleticism.
Lambert led 45-37 at halftime and expanded the lead in each of the subsequent quarters, reaching a 20-point advantage with three minutes left in the game. Lambert junior guard Mitch Ganote led all scorers with 29 points, and Longhorns senior Ryan Barthel had 15 points on five three-pointers. Damon Stoudamire had 15 points and Jordan McIlwain had 12 for Lambert (6-1, 1-0 Region 5-7A).
Trevor Elliott led North with 18 points, and Jonathan Pefanis and Braden Collins had 15 and 12, respectively.