North Forsyth senior Avery Scarbrough had two goals heading into her final season of high school basketball, neither of which have ever been accomplished by the Lady Raiders: win a region title and make it to the Elite 8 of the state tournament.
Done, and done.
Carrying energy from its Region 6-AAAAAA championship last Tuesday, the Lady Raiders took down Duluth in the second round of the Class AAAAAA tournament on Monday, 64-49, giving them a win in their final home game of the year and a ticket to the state quarterfinals.
Making history has become a regular occurrence for North (28-2), and while they’ll no longer be able to play in the comfortable and raucous confines of Raider Arena, they don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“It means everything [to win my last home game],” said Scarbrough. “It’s everything I’ve wanted, but we have to keep getting better.”
Junior Caroline Bowns carried North with 29 points, hitting all six of her 3-pointers and committing just one turnover in the process. She has stepped up to the occasion and carried her team over the last few weeks, averaging 21.75 points in her last four contests.
“Every time we needed someone to make a big shot, she stepped up,” North head coach Eric Herrick said of Bowns. “It was one of the better performances I’ve seen as a coach … She played with a lot of confidence tonight and looked like a kid on a mission.”
It’s been two years since North and Duluth last took the court together, but the Lady Raiders have not forgotten how that regular season game ended. Duluth emerged victorious in double overtime, scoring at the buzzer after corralling an offensive rebound.
North’s players who took part in that match-up remain frustrated when recalling the loss, giving them an extra dose of motivation heading into this state tournament showdown.
“We wanted to let them know we didn’t forget that loss,” said Bowns. “We wanted them to know we were here to do something North Forsyth has never done.”
The Lady Raiders used that memory to help kick-start a strong first half, earning a 26-17 lead at intermission. However, Duluth conjured a game plan for the second half that played to its advantage: get the ball to 6-foot-3 center Katie Powell as much as possible.
It worked in the third quarter. Powell scored 13 points in that frame and cut the deficit to seven. She earned most of her points along the arc — not exactly the most conventional style for a center — which threw off North and led to some defensive breakdowns. Scarbrough and North had to adjust.
So the Lady Raiders tweaked their defensive scheme, and soon Powell was rendered ineffective—hitting just two field goals in the fourth. Her late decline spelled the end for Duluth.
“Avery is not used to floating the perimeter and guarding there, so she had to change her game and change her mindset,” said Herrick. “She did an awesome job at that.”
“[Powell] is a really talented player who can step out and shoot 3s,” said Scarbrough, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “I had to really get up on her and not sink so low. I’m used to playing that post, so I had to get up and guard up top.”
While she didn’t register a point in the first three quarters, North point guard Lochlain Corliss played a major role in sealing the victory for the Lady Raiders—doing so after an injury kept her from returning to full health.
Corliss had the wind knocked out of her early in the fourth, forcing her to the bench. Had she missed considerable time, Duluth might have had a golden opportunity to stage a comeback, but she persevered through the pain and got back in quickly.
“She’s as tough as they come,” Herrick said of Corliss. “She’s not going to come out of the game unless they carry her off. You never have to worry about her.”
Seconds after she re-entered the game, Okwunne Ogbogu stole the ball and fed it to Corliss, who drove to the hoop for an easy lay-up. With Duluth nipping at North’s heels, that play would go down as the momentum changer needed to put the Lady Wildcats away.
“That was huge,” said Herrick. “There’s no quit in Lochlain.”
That basket gave Corliss her first two points of the game with roughly seven minutes left in regulation, and she’d go on to finish with 12. Her 10 free throws down the stretch proved vital, but so was her mere presence on the court.
North will shift its attention to its next opponent, Archer. They’ll square off on Wednesday with a trip to the Class AAAAAA semifinals on the line.
“Archer is really good,” Scarbrough said, “but I think we want this more.”