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Basketball: North girls rout Central to take sole control of Region 5-7A
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North Forsyth's Caroline Martin looks up the court during the Raiders' game against Forsyth Central on Jan. 15, 2019 at North Forsyth High School. - photo by Ben Hendren

Caroline Martin has entered playoff mode.

With North Forsyth holding a 22-point lead Tuesday night against Forsyth Central, the Raiders were up big, but that didn’t stop Martin from trying to make any play she could. With 45 seconds left in the third quarter, Martin drove under the basket, and as she jumped up, the contact with Central defenders caused her to fall backwards. As she fell to the floor, she tossed the ball high up underhanded. 

It fell through the hoop from the top of the backboard and elicited a round of cheers, and she couldn’t help but smile as she was helped up by her celebrating teammates.

“There’s something about that kid,” North coach Eric Herrick said. “She’s a different player after Christmas. For some reason, every year, she has early-season struggles and then after Christmas, she just plays out of her mind. I’m glad she’s on my team.”

With North and Central both tied for first place in Region 5-7A entering Tuesday’s action, Martin’s 16-point performance helped the Raiders reaffirm that they were still the team to beat after last year’s Final Four appearance, besting the Bulldogs by a decisive 57-33 score.

North led for the game’s entirety and had a 27-15 lead at halftime, but it wasn’t until the third that the Raiders really took control. North went on a 10-1 run to start the second half, and after threes from Martin, Harley Helms and Ansley Allen, the Raiders had a 44-22 lead heading into the final period.

“We always talk about at halftime, when you get a decent lead, you want to come out, go on an 8-0 run, 10-0 and kind of put it away,” Herrick said. “We just executed. We wanted to run a set play and give Caroline a drive right out of the half.”

Defense was also a key factor in North’s success, with the Raiders’ pressure and inside defense keeping Central’s offense at bay. Aisha Dabo, who has been a key scorer for the Bulldogs this year, was held to just three points.

“We had to come out and make sure that Dabo didn’t come out and make everything she shot,” Martin said. “We put our best defender on her — that was our main objective.”

North began the game strong, going  on a 13-1 run out of the opening tip. Martin connected on two open three-pointers during that stretch, and Vekondja Ogbogu added a three of her own.

Meanwhile, Central’s offensive effectiveness inside the paint was being stifled, and the Bulldogs just couldn’t connect on their shots. By the end of the first, the Raiders had jumped out to a somewhat comfortable 17-5 lead.

“We guarded the heck out of the basketball,” Herrick said. “I thought we put a lot of pressure on the guards, even in the halfcourt. That’s going to be our calling card the rest of the year.”

In the second, Central began to close the gap a bit, with an 8-2 run to start the second quarter. A three from Ansley Carver and made shots from Elizabeth Pruitt and Jillian Bretz helped Central inch closer at 19-13, but the Raiders pulled ahead again before the half ended and cruised to the win from there. Bretz led the Bulldogs with 13 points.

Free throws were an issue for the Bulldogs during their win over South Forsyth last week, and the issue resurfaced on Tuesday: Central converted eight of its 18 shots from the line. It was a missed opportunity, with North only getting five free throw chances.

“At halftime, when you’re down 12 and you’ve missed eight or nine free throws, at that point you still feel like you’re in the game,” Central coach Angela Hurt said. “But obviously, I don’t think we had (our best) game.”

North Forsyth boys 51, Forsyth Central 49

The boys game was close throughout and ultimately came down to the final seconds of the fourth quarter. After two missed free throws from North with under 10 seconds left, the Bulldogs could not tie the game upon getting the ball back, and Raiders were clinging to a 50-48 lead with 5.4 seconds to go.

Central's Brandon Sherer was fouled on his way to the basket with two seconds left. After he made his first free throw, he intentionally missed his second off the backboard and kicked it out to Jake Craft for a game-winning buzzer-beating three, but he could not connect.

Sherer led the Bulldogs with 19 points. North's Cory Seitz and Justin Costello scored 16 and 14, respectively.