With 3:57 left in the second quarter, North Forsyth girls’ basketball needed a timeout. Johns Creek forward Maggie Sledjeski had hit the Lady Gladiators’ fifth 3-pointer of the first half and cut North’s lead down to three. The Lady Raiders were struggling to rotate on defense, and No. 8 seeded Johns Creek was making them pay.
With 3:27 left in the third quarter, it was Johns Creek that needed a timeout. The North team that won 23 regular games and ascended in the state rankings had resurfaced, wreaking havoc on defense, zipping the ball in transition and cruising in the second half to a 67-30 victory Saturday in the opening round of the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament at West Forsyth.
No.1 seeded North improved to 24-2 overall and secured its third straight appearance in the state playoffs. The Lady Raiders will play West Forsyth in the region semifinals Monday at 5 p.m.
“The elimination game is always a stressful one,” North coach Eric Herrick said. “This is a big one, and everything after this is fun. We have bigger goals. We want to win championships. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
After building a 13-point first quarter lead, North took a step backward. Johns Creek hit six 3-pointers in the first half. When Sledjeski hit a 3 to cut North’s lead to 21-18, Herrick promptly called a timeout. It helped some, but North still went into halftime up just 28-21 and unsatisfied with its performance.
How to snap out of its sluggish play?
“Herrick,” North senior Kendall Bennett said.
The halftime message worked immediately, for North used every facet of basketball to its advantage in the second half. Behind junior guards Lochlain Corliss and Sydney Pefanis, the Lady Raiders’ defensive intensity held Johns Creek to no 3-pointers and just three field goals in the second half.
Meanwhile, North unleashed its transition offense and a flurry of points ensued. Avery Scarbrough hit a put-back lay-up, was fouled and converted the free throw, Bennett hit a 3 and suddenly the Lady Raiders had a double-digit lead again at 33-21.
But it didn’t stop there. Scarbrough made another lay-up and Bennett and Corliss knocked down 3s. Johns Creek called a timeout, hoping to thwart North’s run, but to no avail. It only got worse – a free throw by junior guard Caroline Bowns, a put-back by Scarbrough, another 3 by Bennett and a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up by Corliss.
“We got back to playing disciplined defense,” Herrick said. “Lochlain really stepped it up and Sydney Pefanis stepped it up on the defensive end, put a lot more pressure on the basketball.”
Bennett led North with 16 points and made four of the Lady Raiders’ nine 3-pointers. Bowns had 13 points, Corliss scored 12 points and Scarbrough added nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We really want to win region this year,” Bennett said, “and we want to go as far in state as we can. It’s great to get [the first round] out of the way and look forward to the next one.”