By MacKenzie Bates
For the Forsyth County News
Ashley Breindl was in the right place at the right time.
The sophomore’s wide-open layup with 40.5 seconds left broke a late-game tie to help South Forsyth secure a 50-47 win over North Gwinnett Friday night in the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs.
“I missed one of those early,” Breindl said of the layup. “It just happened in the moment and it was big for our team. Luckily, I was able to get open and score. We’re excited to be moving on in the playoffs.”
It was a back and forth contest from start to finish, with neither team with a bigger lead than four points. North Gwinnett’s Sydnee Jackson hit a running 3-point basket to give the Bulldogs a 39-36 lead after three quarters. The lead extended to 44-40 midway through the fourth quarter.
South got to work on defense, forcing the Bulldogs to miss four straight shots and missing four free throws. Breindl scored seven of her 14 points in the fourth quarter on a three-point basket and two free throws before her game-changing bucket late in the game.
“Finish strong,” South head coach Keith Gravitt said as a message to his team in the fourth quarter. “Our assistant coaches were reminding our seniors that this could’ve been your last minutes of basketball.
“Luckily, it’s not.”
The War Eagles took a 22-19 lead in to the locker room at halftime, but a 10-3 Bulldog run, sparked by a Alanni Brown three-ball, pushed North up 29-25 with 6:12 left in the third quarter. Baskets later in the quarter by Zoe Maisel and three free throws by Ryane Williams kept South within reach.
North Gwinnett, a team that won six games a year ago, was back in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Coach Amanda Heil gave credit to South’s effort.
“Both teams played really well,” Heil said. “We had a lot of good looks and plenty of opportunities to score, (Williams) sinking those free throws, and their defense late in the game made the difference.”
North Gwinnett freshman Malia Fisher led the Bulldogs with 15 points.
Maisel had 15 points and seven rebounds, with a stretch of scoring six straight points in the second quarter. Sara Idris had the first points in three of the four quarters, making a 3-point basket, a free throw and a field goal. She finished with 10 points. Williams contributed with 10 points and several key rebounds during the second half. The War Eagles were 18-of-23 from the free throw line, 15-of-19 in the second half.
“We played with a lot of grit,” Gravitt said. “I was so, so inspired with how hard they played.”
One area South hopes to improve on is not giving up second-chance points. North Gwinnett grabbed several offensive rebounds that equated to 17 points.
South moves on to face Norcross in the second round of the playoffs next week. The Blue Devils defeated Archer 75-65 on Friday.
“We’ll be in for a war, and that’s how we’ll need to play in order to be successful,” Gravitt said. “Norcross is a team year in and year out that play in the quarters, semifinals or playing for a state championship. To borrow a line from the great, Jimmy Valvano, we’re happy to survive and advance to play next week.