They’ve been playing a high level of girls basketball at North Gwinnett for years, but Saturday the program experienced something new. They won what is believe to be the first region championship in school history.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs improved to 25-1 and turned aside nemesis No. 2 Norcross 58-53 in the Region 7-AAAAAA championship at Mill Creek.
“We’ve been the No. 1 seed a couple of times and lost both times,” said North coach Bryan Sellers. “And a few years ago when they were playing in subregions, they’d win the subregion but get beat in the championship game.”
North Gwinnett knew it would be in for a battle against the tournament-tested Blue Devils (23-5) and the decision came down to a free-throw shooting contest in the final minute that the Bulldogs passed. Joshlyn Belcher, a junior who transferred from Wesleyan, missed the front end of a one-and-one, but then made four straight to put the game away.
“It means so much to come to a new program and make new friends and help win a championship,” Belcher said. “It felt good, especially beating a rival like Norcross. If we do what we’re capable of doing and they do what they do, we could play again in the championship.”
Belcher wound up with 14 points, helping assist Lexie Brown, who had 22 points, and Peyton Whitted, who had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Norcross was led by Georgetown signee Shayla Cooper, who scored 28 points, mostly with her powerful inside game, and Diamond Deshields, who slashed her way to 15 points.
North Gwinnett led by as many as 12 points in the second half before Norcross fought back and trimmed the margin to 46-45. That’s when Belcher knocked down a basket to provide a little margin and Norcross never again got closer than two points.
“We were able to protect the lead,” Sellers said. “It got kind of scary there. Jocelyn stepped up and made some free throws that we needed.”
Consolation game: Mountain View 77, Duluth 76
Iceis Walker scored 18 points, including a layup at the buzzer in overtime, to give the Bears the win. Kelsey Hutchins added 18 and Bria Virgil added 16 for Mountain View (18-9). Duluth (18-10) got 29 points from Katie Powell and 20 points from Joi Jones.