COAL MOUNTAIN -- If you went by mere appearances, you probably wouldn't think much of the North Forsyth girls basketball team upon first inspection.
There are no players taller than 6-foot and some are just downright slender. Of course, appearances can be deceiving.
Just ask their opponents. The Lady Raiders have used guile, teamwork, and heart to amass an 18-2 record so far this season and sit tied with county-rival South Forsyth for first place in Region 6-AAAAAA.
"We're not big at all but what we lack in size, we make up for in heart and effort," third-year North Forsyth coach Eric Herrick said. "If state titles were awarded on heart, we would be the favorite to win it. These girls do not know the word quit and have played their hearts out every game.
"At all positions we shoot the ball and handle the ball well. We only go about seven or eight deep but there is a lot of quality there."
Last week against Centennial, they provided evidence. They trailed by one point with two seconds left but Lochlain Corliss willed in a running 3-point hook-shot at the buzzer to give them a miraculous victory.
"That is certainly my favorite moment so far of the season," Herrick said. "They just find ways to get things done. You don't draw that up."
What Herrick has drawn up is a winning formula over the past three seasons. He took over a program in 2011 that had lost 13 straight games to end the previous season and saw low morale.
In his first year they set a school record in wins with 21 and then broke that record last season with 24 victories. Now, they are eyeing another first.
"The girls program has never won a region title and that is what we are trying to do," Herrick said. "For the seniors, who were on the team that lost 13 in a row to end a season, it would mean a lot for me to have them go out in a big way."
Senior Avery Scarbrough (6-foot) an Emanuel commit, is averaging a double-double on the season (12 ppg, 10 rpg) and senior Kendall Bennett (5-6) a first-year starter, has drained 27 3-pointers on the season. Juniors Corliss (5-9, 11 ppg) and Caroline Bowns (6-0, 15 ppg) give the Lady Raiders a potent and balanced offensive attack. Bowns leads the team in 3-pointers made with 39 and in 3-point percentage (35 percent) on the season.
Scarbrough, Bowns, and Corliss also have shown endurance averaging nearly 30 minutes a game each.
"We have several weapons and when we are shooting well we're a hard team to defend," Herrick said. "My one concern is when we run into a team with a lot of height. That may catch up to us eventually. But, I would never bet against these girls."
North Forsyth (18-2, 8-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) opened the season with 18 straight wins but has hit a slight bump with two consecutive losses. However, the Lady Raiders split with South Forsyth (19-2, 8-1) and would hold the tiebreaker edge due to point-deferential. They beat the Lady War Eagles 72-35 in the first meeting before falling 55-47 last week.
Herrick said their first encounter with South Forsyth was near-perfection inside and out and defensively.
"That was probably our best game of the year, without a doubt," he said. "When we play like that, hitting 3-pointers, defending the way we did, I feel we can beat anybody. But last week, they just outplayed us. We're a little banged up right now with some nagging injuries but I don't know if it would have made a difference.
"We're a blue-collar team. We have to outwork our opponents. Our effort is never an issue but if we're not shooting well or not playing our best on defense we have trouble."
With just over two weeks left in the regular season Herrick and the Lady Raiders know they are poised for a solid region seeding and hopefully a deep run in the playoffs. But for now, they are content with just focusing on the now.
"We're just trying to stay within ourselves and not look down the road," he said. "The last two games may have also been a reflection of the girls being a little over-confident after a great start. You can't have that attitude if and when you get into the playoffs.
"I think they understand better now what they need to do and what they are capable of. We're just working on putting the two together. If we can do that, I like where we are."