Special to The News
CUMMING, Ga. -- Jada Franklin scored a team-high 11 points and Tijunna Freeman scored seven, but it wasn’t enough for the Newton Lady Rams to get past North Forsyth Friday night, as Newton suffered a season-ending 60-32 loss to North Forsyth in first round Class AAAAAAA state tournament action.
North Forsyth was strengthened by the return of Caroline Martin who sustained an ankle injury in the Region 5-AAAAAAA tournament.
On Thursday, Martin couldn’t even run and Ansley Allen, another key scorer, sat out half of practice with a knee injury. Even head girls basketball coach Eric Herrick was afflicted, missing two days of practice with the flu.
But right before Friday night’s first round playoff game against Newton, the Raiders’ luck began to turn the other way. Martin had a roughly 50 percent chance of playing all week, but during Friday’s 2 p.m. shootaround, she and Herrick agreed that she was good enough to go.
While Martin certainly wasn’t 100 percent in her return against the Rams, she didn’t need to be. Allen picked her teammate up, putting together one of her strongest performances of the season to lead North to a 60-32 win over Newton.
“(We're) a very resilient team to get by an injury like that and me not being at practice,” Herrick said. “I was glad to see us show up and really play our butts off tonight.”
Allen found the bucket early and often, accounting for North’s first nine points. She scored 20 points by the end of the first half and 27 for the game, with Newton’s defenders helpless to stop her.
“We did nothing we prepared for,” Newton coach Tiffani Johnson said. “They did everything we knew they were going to do and we did nothing we planned to do. They executed and we didn't, and that was it. Honestly, as a coach, I'm somewhat speechless.”
With her Friday night performance, Allen’s late-season ascendance continued — she also scored 26 against Forsyth Central in last week’s region championship game. She prepared for the Rams expecting Martin not to play, and in the last few weeks, she’s definitely noticed an improvement in her own skills.
“I think I've improved this season on being a scorer,” Allen said. "Once I pick up my dribble, (I've been) splitting defenders: I think that's where I've really improved.”
For Martin, having Allen on that kind of a tear gave her a chance to focus on getting back to playing her game. Out of Friday’s opening tip, she struggled to shoot, but at the halftime buzzer, she made a three for her first field goal of the game. Even at less-than-full strength, though, having Martin on the floor is valuable, and as she continues to heal, the Raiders are thankful to have a player like Allen to take more responsibility.
“(Caroline) didn’t have her normal explosive burst at the rim, but we didn't really need it tonight with Ansley attacking like she did,” Herrick said. “Just having Caroline on the floor as a threat to knock down jumpers — you've got to account for it.”
Martin played through some pain, along with a good amount of contact from Newton defenders. In the second half, she began to find her rhythm, eventually ending her night with 15 points. After Martin’s halftime buzzer-beater, North led 37-15, and the Raiders didn’t come close to trailing the Rams the rest of the way.
“I just tried to forget about (the pain),” Martin said. “Once it started hurting, it just kind of went numb and I didn't really feel it.”
Newton finished the season 10-19 overall, while North Forsyth will host Duluth in its second-round matchup on Wednesday.