MILTON – Youth can be troublesome, and at times this season for North Forsyth girls basketball that looked like 33 missed free throws in a single game, or just eight points scored in a single half. The Lady Raiders did both during the regular season, the pains of maturation for a team with just three seniors.
But youth can also be fearless. It can look like a freshman hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to start a game, or making 84 percent of free throws with a berth in the region championship at stake. North did both Wednesday in its 63-36 demolition of South Forsyth in the semifinals of the Region 5-7A tournament at Milton.
These young Lady Raiders, who lost to South by 21 and 15 points in the regular season, are now in their fifth region championship game in six seasons, eager to try for a second region title Friday at 7 p.m. against Lambert, a 45-36 winner against West Forsyth.
“We’re not content to be back in one,” North Coach Eric Herrick said. “We want the big trophy this time.”
A freshman duo led North (19-6): Caroline Martin scored a team-high 15 points, all in the second half, while Ansley Allen, newly-added to the starting lineup, had 12 points and eight rebounds. Junior forward Cassie Markle added eight points and seven rebounds. Vekondja Ogbogu, another freshman, led the Lady Raiders’ deep bench with eight points and four rebounds.
Allen set the tone from the very start. She began the scoring with a 3 from the corner, then added another from the elbow. Ogbogu hit a 3. So did Kate Ware. Markle made a transition layup, and suddenly North was ahead 14-2 in the first quarter, shooting with confidence and defending with tenacity against the team it lost to by an average of 18 points in their two meetings during the regular season.
The Lady Raiders’ largest lead of the first half was 26-9 in the second quarter.
“We’re a young team that really plays on confidence, and we’ve said all week if we could just get a good start, get some confidence early, that we would roll,” Herrick said. “We come out and our freshman hits 3s early … and our defense just started rolling.”
Still, South (17-9) had a run in it. Emily Dreslinski (17 points) led the Lady War Eagles on a 12-1 run to close the second quarter and cut North’s lead to 27-21 at halftime. Sara Idris then made a baseline jumper to open the third quarter and trim the lead to four.
No matter. Bella Caracciolo converted a three-point play. Amber Jones made her second 3. The lead grew to 46-31 by the end of the third quarter and 20 points mid-way through the fourth as South attempted to foul its way back into the game.
North was fine with that – it went 12-for-12 from the line in the fourth quarter.
“This team’s growing up a little bit,” Herrick said.
Milton boys 64, South Forsyth 61
South had no reason to think it couldn’t defeat the Eagles on Wednesday in the region semifinals. It had lost just 66-59 to them on Jan. 5 and 69-64 on Jan. 24. Then it held a six-point lead with five minutes left in the game.
But the lead slipped away from South, a combination of missed shots, poor shots and clutch Milton plays preventing the War Eagles from reaching Friday’s region championship game against rival Lambert, an 86-64 winner against West Forsyth.
“They made a few more plays than we did, and that’s kind of happened the three times we’ve played those guys,” South Coach Scott Givens said. “They just made a few more plays than us.”
UNC-Wilmington signee Evan Cole led South (10-17) with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, a compelling counterpart to Milton senior Alex O’Connell, the Duke signee, who finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
Isaiah Magee scored 12 points for the War Eagles, while Daniel Bateman added nine points and seven rebounds.
In a game that featured 13 lead changes and 17 ties, South held either team’s largest lead at 58-52 with 5:09 left in the fourth quarter after two free throws by Santhosh Saravanan. But O’Connell began the comeback with a fierce driving layup to start a 9-0 run that gave Milton a 61-58 lead.
Bateman tied the game with a corner 3, but Milton made enough free throws down the stretch – and South missed enough shots – to secure the win.
The War Eagles will face West on Friday at 5:30 p.m. to determine the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds for the state playoffs.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Given said. “We’re in the state tournament again, but we’ve got to show a lot of character, a lot of pride because we’re going to play again on Friday.”