The holiday tournaments are over. A first pass through the region schedule has been made.
Now, it’s all about getting ready for region tournaments in February when the state playoffs are at stake.
Here’s the Forsyth County News sports staff’s mid-season report entering last Friday’s games:
Chattahoochee 47, North Forsyth 45: On paper, this was a mismatch. The Cougars entered the season coming off three straight state playoff appearances and featured 6-foot-5 guard Marcus Sheffield, the No. 6-ranked junior prospect in the state according to 247Sports. The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and were winless entering the Dec. 3 game. And down 43-31 entering the fourth quarter, North held Chattahoochee to just four points before falling short. Chad Bureau led the Raiders with 15 points in the loss.
West Forsyth 38, South Forsyth 36: This wasn’t a game to pad the stats. Shooting percentages went out the window. Indeed, as the Wolverines struggled to hold the lead late in the game they missed five straight free throws at one point. The War Eagles fought back from a fourth-quarter 10-point deficit, but West held on, led by Logan Miller’s season-high 15 points.
Player of the year watch
Logan Bush, Lambert: At first glance it might appear the reigning County Player of the Year has taken a step back. Don’t be fooled. It just so happens that the senior forward plays on the most balanced team in Forsyth. The Longhorns have five players averaging double figures, and Bush leads them with 13.7 points to along with 5.9 rebounds a game.
Jeremiah Jones, Forsyth Central: On a team that starts four sophomores, Jones’ leadership alone provides ample value. But so does his play. The Bulldogs forward is second in the county in scoring with 18.2 points a game to along with 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists. This after Jones averaged just 7.1 points and 4.0 rebounds a game last season. His improvement is big reason why the 7-6 Bulldogs’ have already eclipsed their win total from last season.
Nick Staiti, West Forsyth: Here’s another who, like Jones, has been a whole new player compared to last season. Staiti’s shooting percentage is up (43 percent from 36 last season). His free throw shooting percentage is up (77 percent from 67 last season). So is his rebounding (7.3 a game from 4.0). The biggest jump has been the senior guard/forward’s scoring, up to a county-best 20.7 points a game compared to 10.8 last season.
Second half outlook
1. Is Region 6-AAAAAA Lambert’s to lose? It appears that way, but perhaps we won’t know for sure until the Longhorns host Centennial on Friday. Lambert is certainly in good position so far with a 4-0 region record and solid wins over Alpharetta (60-49) and Johns Creek (69-60). The Knights are right behind the Longhorns at 3-1. With five players averaging double figures and a deep bench, Lambert appears to be the most complete team in the county.
2. Can Central grow up in time? The Bulldogs are one of the youngest, if not the youngest teams in the county that starts four sophomores and one senior (Jeremiah Jones). Results have been mixed so far. Yes, Central is 7-6 overall, but it’s just 1-4 in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. A at press time. The sophomore group of Eli Brown (11.3 PPG), Cale Jackson (10.2 PPG), Josiah Laws and Braden Ragsdale along with Jones have already eclipsed last season’s win total, but they’ll need to improve against region opponents if they want to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2001.
3. Pinecrest Academy has a run in it. The record is a bit deceiving. The Paladins are just 3-9 overall, but Pinecrest coach Jay Lynch loaded the early schedule with tough games in hopes it gave an inexperienced team valuable lessons before region tournament time. At 2-1 in Region 8-A, the Paladins are a factor. With the bulk of the region schedule ahead of it, Nick Palmer (12.2 PPG), Sean Flanigan (9.9 PPG) and Pinecrest have a chance to become a dangerous team.
— Brian Paglia
South Forsyth 50, West Forsyth 41: A game that featured two of the best teams in the 6-AAAAAA region started well for West, but ended poorly for the Lady Wolverines in more ways than one. Not only did South mount an impressive comeback—down 25-15 in the second quarter—to win 50-41, but star center Jenna Staiti went down with an ankle injury. She has yet to return to action since that night.
Forsyth Central 44, West 39: In a contest that featured two shorthanded teams, Central overcame the odds by taking down West in a thriller in one of the closest games we’ve seen this year. Emma Kane led Central with 12 points, and Anna Moore, Julie Richards and Caroline Hearn all posted eight. The Lady Bulldogs hit 17 of 20 free throw attempts, a clip that was necessary to take down a strong West club.
North Forsyth 72, South 35: North solidified its place atop the Forsyth County totem pole when it took down South in a battle of the unbeatens on Dec. 10, dominating the Lady War Eagles in virtually every facet of the game. The Lady Raiders made a big statement by beating a talented South team so easily. This outcome served as a bit of a wake-up call for the previously unvanquished War Eagles, who have won four of five since that night.
Player of the year watch
Jenna Staiti, West Forsyth: Despite suffering an ankle injury on Dec. 13, Staiti has lived up to the hype in her second season of high school basketball. After scoring 22.5 points per game as a freshman, she’s kept her average above 20 PPG again and remains a dominant force in the paint. With West enjoying a swift turnaround from 2012-13, it’s become clear that Staiti is the foundation that holds this team together. The first game the Lady Wolverines dropped this year was the one she was hurt, and West then fell to Central (4-9) the next game. Before Staiti’s injury, West was 8-0.
Sarah Myers, South Forsyth: Also a Maryland commit, Myers has shown why she was coveted by top college programs with a strong sophomore campaign thus far, scoring 18.3 PPG for the Lady War Eagles, who are off to an impressive 11-2 start. Myers has been the biggest reason for South’s success, as she’s the only player to average double-digit points.
Caroline Bowns, North Forsyth: With a team-high 14.2 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game, Bowns has propelled North to a perfect record thus far in 2013-14. Additionally, the six-foot tall junior ranks first on her squad in blocks, second in assists and third in steals. Bowns’ all-around game makes her the most valuable member of the Lady Raiders, who appear to be the team to beat in Forsyth County.
Second half outlook
1. How long can North stay undefeated? North has yet to lose a basketball game this season, and is clearly the top team in the county right now. While it would be unfair to expect the Lady Raiders to remain undefeated throughout 2013-14, the pressure is certainly there for them to continue to play elite basketball. The longer they can maintain an unblemished record, the more attention they’ll receive at the state level.
2. How will Staiti and Myers fare in the second half? For the remainder of their high school careers, sophomore basketball stars Sarah Myers and Jenna Staiti will be heated rivals—Myers for South, Staiti for West. Upon graduation, however, the two will become teammates for the Maryland Lady Terrapins, one of the top NCAA women’s basketball programs in the country. While the two play different brands of basketball, the comparisons between them will continue. Will Staiti return to form when she comes off the shelf? Can Myers challenge her for the scoring lead?
3. Can West maintain a strong record? 2013-14 has been a renaissance season for the Lady Wolverines, who have rebounded from a 9-17 record last year by winning 9 of their first 11 games so far. A young team on the rise, West could make a push for the 6-AAAAAA region title if they continue to grow—especially if star center Jenna Staiti heals from her recent ankle injury. According to head coach David May, "Our girls approach every day with the attitude that we have to get better today. That’s exactly what we have to do if we want to be competitive in our region. However, physically we have a long way to go."
— Andrew Hirsh