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Diminutive sharpshooter sparks North past Norcross 64-49

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown (4) takes a jump shot beside Norcross' Javonne Stanfield (11) during girls high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross 64-49.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown (4) takes a jump shot beside Norcross' Javonne Stanfield (11) during girls high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross 64-49.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Stephanie Amichia (23) gets fouled by Norcross' Kolby Meeks (20) while driving to the basket during girls high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross 64-49.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett's Lexi Brown (4) and Baylee Rexing (5) celebrate after defeating Norcross 64-49 during girls high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross' Diamond DeShields (22) drives to the basket over North Gwinnett's Joshlyn Belcher (15) during girls high school basketball action in Suwanee on Tuesday. North Gwinnett defeated Norcross 64-49.

SUWANEE -- With all the Division I college-bound talent on the floor involved in the Region 7-AAAAAA showdown between North Gwinnett and Norcross, Baylee Rexing may have been the least imposing looking player on the court.

But the 5-foot-2 junior demonstrated that looks can be deceiving in the Bulldogs' 64-49 win Tuesday night at home.

Rexing tied for game-high honors with 16 points, including four 3-pointers -- two of which came within a 35-second span of each other to ignite a huge run late in the third quarter that helped North (16-0, 9-0) break the game in the battle of the region's co-leaders.

"Baylee had a huge impact," North coach Bryan Sellers said of Rexing, who is already verbally committed to Ole Miss as a junior. "When you have players like Lexie (Brown) and Payton (Whitted), and players like Joshlyn (Belcher) and Stephanie (Amichia), it's easy to overlook her sometimes. She stepped up and made some huge shots for us that kind of killed (Norcross') momentum. There's a reason Ole Miss likes her."

Not that the more-heralded stars for each team were invisible.

Maryland signee Brown had a solid, if not spectacular, game with nine points, four assists and two steals for the Bulldogs, while Penn State-bound Whitted added 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists and junior prospect Amichia chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.

Meanwhile, Norcross (14-3, 8-1) got 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists from North Carolina signee Diamond DeShields, plus 16 points and nine boards from Georgetown-bound Shayla Cooper.

But it was Rexing who had the biggest impact at the most crucial time in the game.

While North led most of the way, including taking a 34-26 lead into halftime, Norcross began to chip away early in the second half.

Twice, the Blue Devils pulled as close as four points, the second time at 40-36 after Sierra Butler's drive down the lane with 3:13 left in the third quarter.

But that's when Rexing began to heat up, finding an open spot in the Norcross defense on opposite wings on North's next two trips down the court. Rexing buried 3-pointers each time off assists from Brown and Alyssa Munlyn to push the Bulldogs' lead to back to double digits at 46-36 with 2:29 left in the period.

"When it comes down to the end, if you have an open shot, you've got to take it," said Rexing, who added four rebounds, four assists and a steal to her point total. "Without my teammates getting into the paint and looking for me open, I couldn't have shot without them.

(The run) kind of got us back together and got the game going. ... We got the crowd going, and it gets you all hyped."

Rexing later dished off an assist to Munlyn, who returned the favor two possessions following, while Brown added a steal, a basket and an assist during the deciding third-quarter run.

When it was over, the Bulldogs had outscored Norcross 14-3 over the final 3:04 of the period to extend the lead to a whopping 54-39 heading into the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils never got any closer than 13 points the rest of the way.

The win seemed like somewhat of a statement, with North grabbing sole possession of the region lead, as well as backing up their No. 3 national ranking by MaxPreps.

But Sellers pointed out that Tuesday night's win was only the first of what could be several meetings with Norcross this season, not to mention the rest of a tough region schedule the Bulldogs still have to face.

"We played a great game. I'm happy with the way we played," Sellers said. "I can't be prouder of the way we played (Tuesday) night. ... (But) we don't know what's going to happen (the rest of the way). I know our girls get along well. We have good team chemistry. But our main focus right now, we're going to enjoy the win (Tuesday) night and get ready for Habersham Central (beginning) tomorrow."