By Zack Huffman
Glenn Hills played the part of the anxious rabbit to Forest Park's slow and steady tortoise Saturday night as the Panthers crescendoed to a comfortable 72-59 victory over the Spartans in the first round of the state playoffs.
"We had a goal. We think state is a state of mind and we have that mindset," said Coach Steve Cole. "Today we played as a team and we won as a team."
In any close-matched game, victory often comes at the hands of turnovers and three-point shots. Forest Park enjoyed an abundance of both.
Forest Park, who were only behind by a point or two in the first half, never found themselves in danger of losing, comfortably leading in each of the quarters.
With 14 players, Glenn Hills easily had the greater depth. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they also had the greater tendency to miss shots, allow rebounds and commit fouls.
"We're a system and everybody has to play a part for us to win. In that second half, everybody played his role," said Cole. "We don't quit. We're going to continue to play our games as a team and not be rattled."
Brandon McCarden led the scoring effort for the Panthers, hitting seven baskets and going six for eight from the free throw line, for a total of 20 points.
When it looked like Glenn Hills was on its way to a comeback, Forest Park's Lamont Jackson was right their to shut down their momentum with a successful three-point shot.
Jackson made a total of three shots from outside, while going seven for eight from the free throw line.
"It made me feel real good. I tried to keep my composure at all times. If I make one I try not to get too hyped up," said Jackson. "I've been playing for Forest Park my whole four years. This is what I've been waiting for."
Hosting a state playoff game was a first for Forest Park. Winning the game was the icing on the cake for the Panthers.
"It feels great. Last year after we lost to Westlake in the first round, we promised ourselves that we would make it one step further. I did it with my friends," said McCarden who cited the shooting prowess of Lamont Jackson and Danny Carter along with Maurice Simpson's rebounding ability as key contributors to Forest Park's victory.
The game was fairly even in the first half with both teams gaining the upper hand only to lose it one play later.
Forest Park was just one point ahead at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers pushed their lead to three points, with a slim 20-17 advantage at the half.
The Panthers offensive flourished in the second half, as the game transformed into a shootout.
In the third quarter alone, both teams exceeded the amount of points each had scored in the first two quarters combined. Forest Park came into the fourth quarter with the advantage having scored 42 to Glenn Hills' 35.
My the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the pressure began to get to the Spartans as they began to consistently foul the Panther.
Forest Park was given 22 free throw opportunities in the finals quarter, success hitting 17 of those shots.
This Wednesday will mark the first time in a long time that Forest Park played into the state sweet 16, according to Cole, who last coached a team that far when he was a part of North Clayton's program.
"I came to Forest Park because my kids grew up in Forest Park. I believe in the community and this team has represented Forest Park well," he said. "The kids in our school can walk around with their heads high up."
Forest Park will make the long trip to Statesboro Wednesday for the second round of the state tournament.