Unable to overcome the loss of their best player, the North Forsyth Vikings and coach Sean Vestal now have to share what originally looked to be all theirs.
Playing without junior guard Anthony Hicks who suffered a hyperextended knee a week earlier, the Vikings lost to Southern Guilford 73-69 on Friday night in Winston-Salem.
As a result of the loss, North Forsyth (16-8, 9-3) and the Storm (13-9, 9-3) will now share the Mid-Piedmont 3-A regular-season conference championship.
“Anthony is one of the best players in the state of North Carolina,” Vestal said. “We sit here and lose by four points and Anthony averages 22 (points per game), so you guys do the math.
“But take nothing away from Southern Guilford — they played hard and they did everything they needed to do. And I thought we played hard. We just had a hard time making up for those 22 points a game that (Hicks) is scoring right now.”
After starting the year 9-1 in conference play, which included a 64-55 road win over Southern Guilford in December, North Forsyth needed to win just one of its final two games to take home its first outright conference championship since 2012.
Hicks, however, suffered his knee injury on Feb. 3 against Asheboro, which ultimately led to the Vikings losing back-to-back games to end the regular season.
Vestal said after the game there is an outside chance Hicks could return for the final rounds of next week’s Mid-Piedmont 3-A conference tournament, although a return for the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs the next week is more likely.
“The sad thing is, that’s the worst I’ve ever felt after winning a conference championship,” Vestal said. “But we prepared all week, we knew (Hicks) was not going to play, and we just didn’t make enough plays to (make up) the difference.”
The Vikings misfortune was another team’s fortune, however, as the Storm won its final seven regular-season conference games to clinch a share of the program’s first conference championship since 1992.
On Friday night, Southern Guilford was led by senior Garren Dearman, who scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, while sophomore Dheih Ding added 19 points and knocked down five 3-pointers.
Despite not having much interior post presence, Southern Guilford was able to shoot its way to victory. Led by Dearman and Ding, the Storm shot 57.2 percent from the field, which included making 11 of 21 from behind the 3-point line.
“We don’t have a choice but to spread other teams out and try to knock down some outside shots because we’re obviously just not that big,” coach Evan Fancourt of Southern Guilford said. “Luckily, those shots were falling tonight.”
After taking an 11-10 lead midway through the first quarter on Ding’s first 3-pointer of the night, the Storm stayed out in front for the remainder of the game, eventually stretching its lead to as many as 14 points early in the third quarter.
North Forsyth rallied early in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 57-53 on a 3-pointer from junior Tyreke McNeil with 6:55 remaining, but Southern Guilford quickly responded with a 7-0 run to ultimately put the game away.
“Man, I can’t even begin to describe to you what this means,” Fancourt said. “I know (North Forsyth) has hung a lot of banners, but for us to win our first share of anything since 1992 means a lot to us. We’re definitely not used to this, so we’re all just really, really excited about it.”
Southern Guilford 73 North Forsyth 69
Southern Guilford 21 18 18 16 — 73
North Forsyth 17 14 19 19 — 69
SGHS (13-9, 9-3): Garrett Dearman 23, Dheih Ding 19, Tyquan McFadden 10, T. Dearman 9, Ross 6, Abwock 4, Calhoun 2
NFHS (16-8, 9-3): Marquese Walker 22, Deante Petree 14, Tyreke McNeil 10, Payne 7, Oakes 5, Ryce 4, Gaines 3, Hickman 3, King 1