By Brian Paglia
A historic feat was over, so it was time for a little house cleaning.
After 18 straight wins, North Forsyth lost 50-49 to St. Francis on Saturday in the Kay Yow Girls Night at Brookwood High School. Against the No. 1 team in Class A, the Lady Raiders let a 6-point lead in the closing minutes slip away. A few defensive lapses, a couple missed free throws and the streak was over.
So on Sunday, North coach Eric Herrick went into his school office to clean. Before he went, he sent out a text message to his team, an invitation for any who wanted to put up shots on an off day.
His cleaning done, Herrick walked into the gym. He saw eight varsity players, and they weren’t just shooting. They were running the court at game speed.
"Without any prompting from me," Herrick said. "I think the St. Francis game has re-energized us."
North completed arguably one of the most dominant stretches in county history. It began Nov. 16, with a 62-36 win over Forsyth Central, and ended Saturday. In between, the Lady Raiders defeated opponents by an average of 24.3 points per game. Only two games were decided by less than 10 points, only one other by less than 15 points.
The record-breaking streak was sprinkled with memorable moments. There was North’s win over Creekview (33-25) in the championship of the Raider Classic during the Thanksgiving holiday. There was a dominant performance over South Forsyth (72-35) when both teams were undefeated. There was a statement win over Region 6-AAAAAA champion Alpharetta (38-35).
"It was pretty sick," senior Kendall Bennett said of the streak. "We really just enjoyed it all and had fun."
The fun reached its zenith in a 54-53 victory at Centennial on Jan. 14 when junior point guard Lochlain Corliss saved the streak.
The Lady Raiders had started the game strong, but things eventually unravelled. They missed lay-ups. They missed free throws. Down by 1 with four seconds left, North inbounded the ball to Corliss. She dribbled around a screen by center Avery Scarbrough at the top of the key and on the run let a towering 18-foot hook shot go from the right elbow.
The buzzer went off a split second before the ball swished through the net.
Another split second and Corliss was mobbed on the court by teammates.
"You think the streak is over and she comes out and makes a shot like that," Herrick said. "You need stuff like that during a long stretch."
"We’ve all watched it a million times on YouTube," Bennett said.
Lessons were plenty during the streak. Like the ability of newcomers Sydney Pefanis, Morgan Grindle and Bennett, whose outside shooting replaced the graduation of the Lady Raiders’ all-time 3-point shooter Kim Blake.
"I think her development was vital for our team," Herrick said.
But Herrick also found the Lady Raiders have a propensity to play to their competition.
"We don’t show up sometimes," Herrick said. "We take the challenge of a great team, but kind of play down to our competition sometimes. And our team realizes that and realizes that’s the sign of an immature basketball team and something we need to do a better job of."
Indeed, North rose to the challenge against St. Francis. The Lady Knights entered the game as the top team in Class A and the No. 9 team in the state according to MaxPreps.com, two spots ahead of the Lady Raiders. With athletic guards and a 6-foot-5 center, St. Francis tested North in ways it hadn’t yet been this season.
"[The loss] was upsetting," Bennett said, "but we just got to learn from it. We learned that we definitely have to take care of the ball more and make shots late in the game that are important."
Despite the loss, North learned the most important lesson of all. To hold a lead so late against the Lady Knights gave the Lady Raiders confidence that they could be poised for a state tournament run.
"After that," Bennett said, "I feel like we can play with anybody."