JOHNS CREEK – North Forsyth forward Okwunne Ogbogu had one individual goal for herself during this Region 6-AAAAAA tournament: make a 3-pointer. In the Eric Herrick era, the Lady Raiders have always had an excess of shooters, so Ogbogu’s role became confined to the paint where she has provided staunch defense and consistent rebounding. But time was running out for the senior. Only so many chances remained to stretch her shooting range and accomplish the one statistical feat she hadn’t.
Two minutes 23 seconds into Friday’s game, Ogbogu shot a 3. It hit the rim.
Two minutes 25 seconds later, she shot another. Nothing.
Still, Ogbogu was undeterred.
“I talked to [North Forsyth assistant coach Brad] Kudlas, and Kudlas was like, ‘Keep shooting,’” Ogbogu said.
Ten seconds into the fourth quarter, Ogbogu caught a pass behind the arc at the right elbow. She was open, but she hesitated. This, of course, has been her instinct the past three seasons. These have been shots for Caroline Bowns or Lochlain Corliss or Morgan Grindle or others to take. Not Ogbogu.
Instead, Ogbogu shot sure and true, nailing the first 3 of her career and in the process sparking No. 5-ranked North to a 51-45 victory over rival West Forsyth in the semifinals of the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament at Chattahoochee High School.
“I saw my opportunity and I just thought I’d do it,” Ogbogu said. “This is my first one. Maybe I’ll keep going tomorrow.”
The Lady Raiders (24-3) advanced to the region final tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. where they’ll get a rematch of last season’s thriller against No. 6-ranked South Forsyth, one that North won 49-45 for its first region title in program history.
That chance looked tenuous after three quarters Friday. Through eight lead changes and three ties, West (20-6) led 32-30 entering the fourth quarter as the Lady Raiders looked tentative on offense in the face of the Lady Wolverines’ 6-foot-5 junior center Jenna Staiti.
Then Ogbogu hit her three-pointer. It ignited the Lady Raiders on an 11-0 run to give North a 41-32 lead it never relinquished.
“I guess when I do stuff [on offense] for the team it makes them get up,” Ogbogu said. “Once that lead came on, we just got into it. We were like, ‘We have to win this. We’ve got to push.’”
“We’ve told her all year, shoot it,” Herrick said. “She has a decent shot. She’s just very hesitant, real reluctant to shot it, and she’s been saying all week, ‘I’m going to make one, I’m going to make one.’”
But the starkest contrast from Friday’s game and the teams’ two regular season meetings was the way North limited Staiti on offense. The University of Maryland commit had averaged 26 points against the Lady Raiders, including a 35-point, 18-rebound performance on Jan. 16 that ended North’s 31-game home winning streak.
North learned its lesson from that loss. Then, it had left Ogbogu on an island to defend Staiti one-on-one. This time, Herrick had Ogbogu and Maddie Palmer double Staiti on every offensive possession – Ogbogu in front, Palmer in back.
Ogbogu and Palmers’ arms looked like tentacles around Staiti, a trap for every entry pass into the paint, and so West struggled to get Staiti the ball. She finished with 12 points on just eight shots, requiring extra effort from Abby Quincy (13 points) and Jasmine Rodriguez (10 points).
One lapse gave Staiti an easy basket with 1:11 left in the game that cut North’s lead to 42-39, but the Lady Wolverines never got closer.
“Obviously, you want to win a region championship,” West head coach David May said. “But that’s not the end of our season. We have other stuff that we talked about that we want to do and want to accomplish. That stuff’s still in front of us.”
North Forsyth 51, West Forsyth 45
West Forsyth 9 6 17 13_45
North Forsyth 9 5 16 21_51
West Forsyth: Quincy 13, Staiti 12, Rodriguez 10, Ortlip 8, Carsen Parker 2.
North Forsyth: Corliss 19, Bowns 17, Grindle 8, Ogbogu 8.