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Short-handed North loses to Hillgrove

LILBURN — Baylee Rexing was on crutches and Stephanie Amichia was missing altogether.

No wonder that when asked Saturday how he was doing, North Gwinnett girls coach Bryan Sellers said, “I’ve been better.”

The short-handed Bulldogs gave Hillgrove a battle anyway, but lost 60-50 in the first round of the Orange Division of the Parkview Tip-Off Classic.

It was the second straight defeat to open the year for North, which reached the Class AAAAAA state title game last season, and the Bulldogs lost more than a game in falling to Class AAAAA power Tucker on Wednesday.

Rexing, the team’s senior point guard and sparkplug, tore the ACL in her right knee in the first quarter and 6-foot-2 senior center Amichia, who has committed to LSU, was benched in the second half of the opener.

Rexing is likely lost for the season and Amichia’s status going forward is uncertain.

North, though, still has Joshlyn Belcher and Alyssa Munlyn to rally around, and each did all she could against Hillgrove, which is expected to battle McEachern again at the top of Region 4-AAAAAA.

Belcher, a sharp-shooting senior guard, scored 20 points and Munlyn, a 6-foot-2 junior forward, added 16.

North led 15-6 at the end of the first quarter and was up 26-23 at halftime despite giving up 10 straight points to start the second quarter. Hillgrove, though, dominated the third quarter to take a 45-31 lead and the Bulldogs couldn’t pull back closer than six points.

Freshman guard Jessica Belcher, Joshlyn’s sister, had eight points, but North’s depth was further tested when sophomore backup point guard Leslie Holbrook was shaken up in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Hillgrove showed off its talent as senior guard Zarriah Pierce scored 19 and 6-foot-1 senior standout Mackenzie Engram added 15 points.

“I have to be realistic,” Sellers said. “Last season, we had an All-American (Lexie Brown) and someone who should have been an All-American (Peyton Whitted). We don’t have the same kind of team this year.”

Now, the Region 7-AAAAAA Bulldogs are further depleted.

“We just have to keep working and see what happens,” the coach said. “Things will get better.”

North dropped into Orange consolation play, where it will meet DouglasCounty on Monday. Hillgrove advanced to the Orange semifinals and a Monday game against defending Class AAA state champion St. Pius, which defeated DouglasCounty 58-52.