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Basketball: North girls stay strong on defense to beat Grayson and advance to state quarterfinals
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North Forsyth's Ansley Allen, left, tries to steal the ball from Grayson's Bianca Fizouaty on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in the second round of the Class 7A state tournament. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography

The ball moved methodically yet swiftly around the 3-point line, from one North Forsyth girls basketball player to another, never hitting the floor, until freshman forward Kate Perryman received a pass in the post. Even then, Perryman barely touched it.

Two Grayson defenders converged on Perryman, but curling around them toward the basket was Catherine Shope. Perryman bounced a pass through the defenders to the senior guard, and her path to the basket was clear for a layup.

North head coach Eric Herrick immediately called timeout after the play early in the fourth quarter, perhaps to set up an ensuing defensive stand, but the pause also allowed the sizeable crowd inside Raider Arena to roar in approval for the team’s double-digit lead.

“It’s fun,” Shope said. “We’re having a fun time out there.”

The fun stopped for North at this point last season in a loss at McEachern in second round of the Class 7A state tournament, but not this time, as the Raiders pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 56-40 victory Wednesday to reach the state quarterfinals.

The Raiders (26-2) will face Hillgrove, a 65-60 winner against Campbell, on Tuesday at home.

Grayson posed a similar challenge to North as first-round opponent Mountain View. The Rams were athletic and taller, but they also had more scoring options than Mountain View. Guard Bianca Fizouaty and forward Jazmine Robinson entered averaging 15.7 and 14.8 points a game, respectively. The Raiders hoped to face-guard Fizouaty and pack defenders inside against Robinson in hopes of forcing Grayson to take jump shots.

And, lo and behold, the Rams started making those shots.

“That definitely wasn’t what we planned on having happening,” Herrick said.

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North Forsyth students react during the Raiders' game against Grayson on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, in the second round of the Class 7A state tournament. - photo by Lily McGregor Photography
Still, North didn’t waver from its game plan. Bella Caracciolo and Kate Ware hounded Fizouaty at all times, and Perryman and others converged on Robinson when she received a pass in the post. Fizouaty finished with just seven points before fouling out, while Robinson led Grayson with 14 points, but she also had five turnovers.

“Our game-plan was to play good defense,” Shope said. “We have to. Every game play good defense, and then our offense will come.”

It did every time Grayson threatened. Down 10-5 in the first quarter, Shope scored seven straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, to reclaim the lead. Down 22-15 in the second quarter, North went on a 10-1 run, finished by a 3-pointer from Amber Jones at the buzzer to take a 25-23 lead at halftime.

When Grayson cut North’s 36-26 lead down to five by the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, Cassie Markle, largely missing from the Raiders’ offensive picture in the first half, came alive. The senior forward drew a foul on a tough driving layup and made one free throw, then crossed over Robinson at the top of the key on North’s next possession for a clear layup.

With each compelling play, the response from North’s crowd built into the crescendo that erupted after the final buzzer sounded. Players from both teams shook hands, and then North students poured on the court, surrounding the Raiders in celebration.

“The crowd has been so good these past two games,” said North guard Caroline Martin, who finished with 16 points. “It makes it so much better. They hype you up so much.”