Archer’s Autumn Newby (24) is heavily guarded by North Forsyth’s Okwunne Ogbogu (33) and Avery Scarbrough (44) during the first half of Wednesday’s Class AAAAAA third-round playoff game at Archer. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
LAWRENCEVILLE — In order to establish some tradition for its young program, Archer had to break with some tradition in its Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal game against North Forsyth.
The Tigers abandoned their normal 1-3-1 zone defense for a straight man-to-man, and the strategy — along with some key second-half shooting — paid off as they claimed a spot on the Final Four with a 57-39 win Wednesday night at Archer.
Amber Skidgel knocked down three of her four 3-pointers on the night in a 1:26 span early in the third quarter to help the Tigers (28-3) secure their first Final Four appearance in the program’s five-year history.
But the defensive adjustment that held North Forsyth (28-3) sharpshooters Caroline Bowns, Lochlain Corliss and Kendall Bennett — who had terrorized Central Gwinnett and Duluth in previous round wins — to just a single 3-pointer each played an equally important role.
“You ask anybody around Georgia and they’ll say, ‘Archer? They’re that 1-3-1 team,’” Archer coach Ryan Lesniak said. “You didn’t see us in the 1-3-1 all night, did you? It was 100 percent man (Wednesday) night. (Bowens, Corliss and Bennett) can all stroke it. We watched film and … we knew if you give them two steps, they’re stroking it. They can flat-out shoot.”
But it was the Tigers, and specifically Skidgel and senior Kayla Rogers, who flat-out shot the ball during the key moments just after halftime.
“We knew we had to come out of the gate hot (in the second half),” Lesniak said. “We had a couple of sets in our back pocket we hadn’t run yet. We set good screens, and Skidgel can flat out shoot it. We had a lot of players make plays (Wednesday) night, but she and Kayla Rogers can flat-out shoot the basketball.”
With Archer leading just 25-19 at the half and an exchange of turnovers to start the third quarter, Skidgel began to heat up.
The Georgia-committed 6-foot junior rolled off screens and took skip passes from either Madison Newby or her sister Autumn on three consecutive possessions and knocked down 3-pointers from the wings to lead a 9-0 run that pushed the Archer lead into double digits at 34-19.
“We thought they were going to shadow us pretty good,” said Skidgel, who finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds. “But we set pretty good screens to get the openings. So, that helped a lot. … If I hit one, it usually gets my confidence up.”
If Skidgel’s shooting boosted the Tigers’ confidence, it really soared when Rogers came off the bench late in the third quarter to help blunt a North Forsyth rally.
The senior hit 3-pointers from identical spots on the right wing in a 41-second span for her only six points of the night to keep the lead in double digits at 42-29 heading into the fourth quarter.
And the Newby sisters moved helped the Tigers move in for the kill in the fourth quarter.
Madison drove the lane for a running jumper, while Autumn followed by finishing a fastbreak with a layup that pushed the Archer lead to 46-29 with 6:19 to play.
North Forsyth never got any closer than 13 points from that point, and when the buzzer finally sounded, the Tigers were able to join the students who stormed the court in celebration of the program’s historic victory.
“We talked about (making the Final Four) all summer long,” Lesniak said. “With the freshman class we had coming in, along with the returners we had, we knew we had a shot. You can’t set attainable goals and expect to reach greatness. You’ve got to set great goals if you want to achieve greatness, and I’m proud of our kids because they’re truly bought into everything we’ve asked them to do.”
Madison Newby led all scorers with 15 points and chipped in five rebounds, six assists and four steals, while Autumn Newby chipped in 14 points and 10 boards.
Corliss led North Forsyth with 13 points, while Bowns, who scored 29 points in the Raiders’ second-round win over Duluth, was held to just seven points.
The Tigers claimed an early lead and maintained it despite playing without Madison Newby after the 5-7 point guard went to the bench with two quick fouls midway through the first quarter.
But with Archer’s lead at 9-7 after the first quarter, the Georgia State-committed junior came back in the second quarter came back in the second quarter and managed to not only stay out of further foul trouble, but dictate a quicker pace in the second quarter.
Newby was a force on both ends, helping a defensive effort that forced North Forsyth into eight first-half turnovers and contributing on the offensive end by either driving to the basket or setting up her younger sister, Autumn.
The Newbys combined for 11 points during a 16-8 run that gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the game at 25-15 following Madison Newby’s pullup jumper with 1:43 left in the first half.
But trouble at the free-throw line, where the Tigers were just 9 of 17 in the opening 16 minutes, prevented them from stretching the lead further.
And when Bowns and Corliss connected on buckets in the final 45 seconds of the half, North Forsyth found itself down just six points at 25-19 by intermission.