After three days covering the Buford and North Hall girls (and watching a few other teams) at the state semifinals and finals at the Macon Centreplex, here are a few thoughts on the end of the high school basketball season.
NORTH HALL GOES ALL IN: It’s one of the somewhat unique aspects of basketball that a game that is so close for so long can look like an easy win by just looking at the final score.
Friday’s semifinal game between North Hall and Washington County illustrated just that point.
The two teams played the majority of the game within five points of one another, and yet the final score reads: Washington County 68, North Hall 52.
On the surface it was just the Lady Golden Hawks’ 31st win of the year, and the last step to a second consecutive berth in the state finals (although they lost to Columbia in the finals). But to the people who saw the game, it was so much more.
It was the kind of game that North Hall was looking to show the crowd. Mary Kate Rushton, who scored a team-high 27 points, said that they wanted to leave the crowd knowing how hard North Hall had played.
Until the final minutes of the game, North Hall kept Washington County within 10 points and within striking distance, a surprise for most everybody.
A loss is still a loss, and as Rushton said afterward, she thought they were going to win even midway through the final quarter.
But for an underdog team full of seniors looking to go out on a high note, the Lady Trojans did all they could.
CARTER FINISHES STORIED CAREER: Buford girls coach Gene Durden explains the rise of Lady Wolves basketball succinctly: When Andraya Carter joined the team, Buford started winning championships.
In 2007 and 2008, Buford’s season ended in the quarterfinals with a loss to the former Class AA girls basketball dynasty, Wesleyan.
In 2009, with Carter just a freshman, the Lady Wolves’ run began. Buford lost just one game, to Marist in double overtime, on the way to a 32-1 season and a win over Model in the state championship.
The next year Buford wasn’t quite as dominant, and even fell in the region championship game. But behind Carter, the Class AA Player of the Year, the Lady Wolves beat Vidalia for the title.
Last season Carter put it all together once again and led Buford to a three-peat, culminating in a win over Greater Atlanta Christian and a second-consecutive Class AA Player of the Year award.
Carter knew well before her senior season even began that her final year at Buford would be much different than the first three.
In the offseason she sustained a partial tear in her Anterior Cruciate Ligament, an injury that kept her sidelined for the first half of the season.
Playing without their team leader, a still very talented Buford squad went up against some of the best teams in the nation in a pair of early tournaments.
After a loss to Alpharetta, the Lady Wolves had dropped to 10-6 on the season. That next game, against Westminster, Carter returned.
The Lady Wolves lost just once throughout the rest of the regular season, to old nemesis Wesleyan (now in Class A), finishing the season and region tournament 11-1 and reaching the state finals against Lovett with relative ease.
The run ended in the final against a Lovett team seemingly destined to win it all.
Still, Carter fought hard in her final game, diving to the floor for loose balls despite playing with a partially separated shoulder.
Though she leaves to embark on her next journey at Tennessee with one fewer title than she and the team might have liked, the Buford program is forever changed after her years in the uniform.
Fellow seniors Kallie Case, JaQwannia Brown and Emily Adams all finished up their time at Buford along with Carter.
LOOKING AHEAD: It’s up in the air as to how next year’s GHSA basketball state tournaments will be played out. Since the GHSA will be adding two classifications for the next school year (Class AAAAAA and separate public and private Class A championships), there could be a change in the current structure, which separates Class A-AAA in Macon and Class AAAA-AAAAA at the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth. Currently, quarterfinals sites are in Dalton and Savannah.
There are a number of different options open for the GHSA, which will discuss the setup for the next two years, as well as a number of other topics, at the March 19th Executive Committee meeting in Macon. Many of the committee members, including Executive Director Ralph Swearngin, were present for the state finals in the Centreplex.
Zac Taylor is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at email@example.com.