With the home fans filling South Forsyth’s gym with noise, Morgan Grindle stood at the free-throw line Friday night with the weight of an upset on her shoulders. The Lady Raiders had already erased an 8-point deficit and built a lead against the only unbeaten team in Region 6-AAAAAA.
Pressure had never been higher, but Grindle was in her element. As successful as she’s been this season, she admits it’s her quiet, composed attitude that leads the most.
The senior walked up to the charity stripe for six shots in the waning moments of the game, and knocked down each one. She scored 10 of 19 points from the free-throw line, spending the majority of the live play directing her team and keeping them in a focused state of mind.
This is how Morgan Grindle goes about her business, and this is how she has led the Lady Raiders all season. They jumped and cheered their way off the floor in a 47-35 upset of South, improving their record to 13-5 in league play and 18-7 overall.
“We’re really excited. That win was big for us, to come in and really work together as a team and get the job done, it brought a lot of confidence,” Grindle said. “We are really excited going into the [region] tournament because we know, starting Wednesday, it’s do or die. We’re ready to perform.”
North doesn’t have the sparkling region record it’s had in the past, but head coach Eric Herrick thinks none of his teams’ have been more impressive — no team has achieved more through hard work, dedication and toughness – than this year’s squad.
Grindle is a heck of a reference point in that discussion. She spent the first three years as a role player for North, waiting her turn at a starting position behind point guard Lochlain Corliss, who now plays at North Georgia.
She has never been the team’s best player. She is the first to admit that. In middle school, she says she was always happy just scoring a basket in a game. When she got to high school, she earned playing time early on but was shy on the court.
This year she has completely evolved. With the team’s top scorer, Hayley Simpson, going down with a torn ACL, Grindle has been the focal point of a team that has picked up the pieces, proved naysayers wrong and—as of Friday—proved it can beat the best of the best.
“I feel like the team feeds off my energy and how I keep everyone composed, just by my attitude and the way I carry myself on and off the court,” Grindle said. “This year has been a lot of fun. Definitely the most memorable so far.”
To get to where she is now, Grindle worked out with coach Herrick in the mornings to improve her ball handling—something she now says is the strongest part of her game. In the offseason she spends every morning in the gym, working out until school starts, then she’ll go to a park in the afternoon to play pickup games to stay on top of her game.
She’s becoming a more comfortable shooter, but most importantly, she keeps the team on its axis.
She also prides herself, and the team, on their reputation as being the most physical squad in the county.
“If we’re not diving for loose balls, we’re on the line running,” Grindle said, “so it’s been instilled in us to play hard. That’s a normal expectation.”
North is riding high into the region tournament, which will tip off tonight at Lambert High School. They’ll face Centennial riding a seven-game winning streak that has included two comebacks of 10 or more points.
You could tell the tale that this North team, which replaced four starters from last year and is without Simpson or junior forward Maddie Palmer, has reached remarkable heights, but Grindle insists that this year is, in a way, no different.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to get to [the] state [playoffs],” Grindle said. “I think we might have been content being .500 this year, but now, we have a lot of wins. We’re pleasantly surprised, but the goal to get to state doesn’t change.
“The difference is we believe more in ourselves.”