If every championship team needs a dirty work player, No. 1 North Gwinnett will be in good shape with Stephanie Amichia heading to next Saturday’s state AAAAAA title game.
The junior post player works in the shadows of seniors Lexie Brown, a Maryland signee, and Peyton Whitted, a Penn State signee, yet Amichia stepped into the light Saturday in North Gwinnett’s 57-40 win over No. 6 North Cobb with 14 points and 17 rebounds – her 13th double-digit rebounding game.
It’s conceivable that when North Gwinnett (30-1) and Norcross meet in the state championship game in an all-Gwinnett County, all-Region 7-AAAAAA rematch that Amichia could be a wildcard. Each team will have two senior Division I signees. Then, there’s the junior Bulldog who grinds like mad.
“That’s a big-time clutch performance in a big game,” North Gwinnett coach Bryan Sellers said of Amichia. “When we have big nights like that from her, it makes it easier on everybody else.”
Usually, Brown and Whitted make it easier on others. Against pesky North Cobb (28-4), Brown scored nine points – about half her average – and Whitted added 13 points and a modest (for a girl who’s 6-feet-3) four rebounds.
Good thing for North Gwinnett that Amichia was around. It was a bad thing for North Cobb.
“We talked about keeping [Whitted] and 23 [Amichia] off the boards, and . . . we didn’t do it,” said North Cobb coach Matt Williams. “We’re undersized compared to those girls. They killed us on the boards.”
That was true. North Gwinnett junior guard Joshlyn Belcher didn’t score other than a 3-pointer in the first half, but she grabbed eight rebounds.
The 6-foot Amichia and her North Gwinnett teammates were struggling with North Cobb’s matchup zone for more than a quarter. The Warriors led 16-12 early in the second period, in fact, after North Cobb senior Sierra Barrino hit a short jumper. Then, North Gwinnett began solving North Cobb’s defense.
The key was dribble penetration and better ball movement rather than simply swinging the ball left and right. North Gwinnett closed the second quarter with a 19-7 run for a 31-23 halftime lead. Brown didn’t score in that stretch. Whitted had seven points – including a 3-pointer.
North Gwinnett sophomore Alyssa Munlyn, the daughter of former Georgia Tech player James Munlyn, came off the bench to add a couple jumpers in the run that turned the game for good.
“We were trying attack the gaps in that zone and make two people guard one and then find the open person,” said Sellers, the North Gwinnett coach. “We [previously] got into the habit of just throwing the ball around. We started getting the ball to the high post and going from the inside to the outside. Our girls started to get aggressive and attack the gaps.
“Our team is just that, a team. You know the cliché, as long as nobody cares who gets the credit good things will happen.”
North Cobb pulled within five early in the third quarter, but North Gwinnett closed the third quarter with a 12-3 burst to put the game away. The Bulldogs led by 12 to start the fourth quarter, and North Cobb sophomore Kyrie’ Chandler’s 12 points were not enough.
Although North Cobb hit seven 3-pointers and scored nine points at the free throw line, the Warriors scored just 10 points inside the arc as North Gwinnett’s size shut down the paint.
Next up: a chance for North Gwinnett to avenge its only loss. Norcross beat North Gwinnett 46-29 on Jan. 23 at Norcross, although on two other occasions — including in the Region 7-AAAAAA championship game — North Gwinnett beat the Blue Devils.
North Cobb (40) – Amber Reeves 3, Briah Woods 7, Sierra Barrino 11, Kyrie’ Chandler 12, Jordan Gray 4, Aniya Corley 3, Ty Broadwater, Alexis Luster, Chantel Strahorn.
North Gwinnett (57) – Lexie Brown 9, Peyton Whitted 13, Joshlyn Belcher 3, Baylee Rexing 6, Stephanie Amichia 14, Alyssa Munlyn 12, Kenisha Wilborn, Oma Nkele, Emily Toomer, Jenifer Jacobs. Halftime: North Gwinnett 31, North Cobb 23.