By Derrick Mahone
For the first two quarters of its game against visiting Forest Park Friday, Jonesboro's girls' team was able to keep pace with the Panthers in a keep region matchup.
It was the last two quarters, however, that was a different story. Forest Park dominated the third quarter en route to a 76-57 victory to stay undefeated on the season.
The Panthers outscored Jonesboro 30-8 in the third to take control of a game that was tight for the majority of the first half. Forest Park only led 25-24 at the intermission.
"We were waiting for that big quarter," Forest Park coach Steve Cole said. "We were sort of tight on defense. Sometimes in a rivalry game, it is hard to get loose. We played a lot better and with more poise in the second half. I was happy to see that."
Jonesboro coach Michael House probably wanted to close his eyes during the disastrous quarter. The Cardinals were outscored 13-2 in the first three minutes as they fell behind 38-26 in the third.
Six of the Cardinals eight third-quarter points came in the last two minutes of the quarter.
"We got buried in the third," House said. "We played our best defense of the season in the first half, it was phenomenal. We were playing team defense. We just got beat on the boards in the second half. We gave them too many second and third shots. We really should have been up about 10-15 points going into halftime."
With the win, Forest Park improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 4-AAAA while Jonesboro, the defending region champions, dropped to 3-3 and 1-2. The Panthers were led by Ashlee Cole and Keyona Allen, who had 16 points each. Nicole Wilson added 12 points for Forest Park.
Jonesboro, which reached the AAAA semifinals last season, was led by Kierra Dennis, who had 13 points. Keisha Anderson came off the bench to contribute 12 points.
Forest Park came into the game averaging 70 points per contest while holding opponents to only 30. The 57 points were the most that the Panthers have given up this season.
"Our goal is to hold people under 40, but that didn't happen tonight," said Cole, who is in his first season as the girl's coach after four season leading the boy's program. "We were struggling in the first half. We had to grind it out. In the second half, especially the third quarter, we started playing Panther basketball."
House said the biggest difference in the second half was his team's defensive effort. In the first half, the Cardinals were on defense near their bench and House was able to call out defensive instructions.
He said since he got the job at the beginning of the school year, the team didn't have time to work together this past summer.
"We are still learning," he said. "We are a young team. I was able to teach from the bench in the first half, but our defense was on the opposite end of the court in the second half. Our girls know that the first five minutes of the second half are the most important minutes, but we didn't respond."
Jonesboro freshman Briana Benson came off the bench in the fourth quarter to spark the Cardinals offense with nine points. It was a big boost after Jonesboro point guard Quinta Gallishaw fouled out with 4:14 remaining in the third quarter. At the time, the Cardinals were down 38-26, but were never really able to get back into the game. She left the game with only eight points.
"That really hurt us as far as senior leadership and defense when she went out," House said. "When your best defensive stopper is not on the floor, you lose some of that pressure defense."
Although he is elated about the team's fast start, Cole said that it is still too early.
Last season, the Panthers lost in the first round of the state playoffs to Hephzibah.
"We still got a lot of games to play," Cole said. "The big test will come against Dutchtown. I think everybody is gearing up for this region race."
Although they are off to a slow start, House is confident that the team can turn it around and make another long playoff run.
"We are going to turn the corner," he said. "It is not were you begin, but were you end the season. We are still a young team."