By Brian Paglia
Here came the exact scenario No. 7 Forest Park hoped to avoid storming down the court. Dutchtown senior guard Brittney Strickland drove the length of the court. A Forest Park timeout to establish its defense before the Lady Bulldogs inbounded the ball to their speedy leader couldn't stop it. Neither could the four Lady Panthers in pursuit.
Strickland never wavered on her way to the basket, even though Dutchtown girls basketball coach Angela Williams had warned her about the unforgiving rims in Forest Park's gym. Knowing how rigid Forest Park's rims were, and how forceful Strickland's layups can be, Williams advised her point guard before Tuesday's game to be cautious.
Though Strickland's body went recklessly toward the basket, her layup fell softly through the net. The Lady Bulldogs (22-2, 15-1) unleashed their frenetic pace of basketball on Forest Park, attacking the basket virtually at will for a 57-54 win. Dutchtown's performance forced a tie for first place in Region 4-AAAA and exacted revenge for a humbling loss to the Lady Panthers last month.
"They're super excited," Williams said about her team. "I have to say they were focused. They did what we needed to do. I don't want to say we'd been looking over the rest of our games, but this is the game we've been focusing on since Jan. 12."
On that night, Forest Park (20-4, 14-1) overwhelmed Dutchtown early, built a double-digit lead in the first quarter and earned a definitive 74-55 win. Had Dutchtown lost to Forest Park again Tuesday, the seeding for next week's region tournament would've been set: The Lady Panthers would've been regular season champs, the No. 1 seed and automatically in the semifinals.
Now, uncertainty remains. Dutchtown's season is done, but Forest Park has one game remaining against Griffin on Thursday. If the Lady Panthers lose, Dutchtown is the No. 1 seed. If they win, fate will be decided by a coin toss.
Dutchtown led by as many as seven points in a first half in which the Lady Bulldogs avoided the costly turnovers that were their undoing in January's loss to Forest Park.
Last time, the Lady Panthers led by double digits in the first quarter. This time, Strickland drove for a layup at the buzzer and Dutchtown led 10-9 after one quarter of play.
"We realized that if we got up and showed (Forest Park) that we could hang with them," said Strickland, who finished with a game-high 26 points. "We felt in their minds they were a little bit skeptical, and we knew right then that we could just take it from there."
"Last time we let them drive to the hole and do anything on us," Dutchtown forward Abria Trice said. "This game we were more patient and we actually moved the ball around real good."
Forest Park asserted itself coming out of the third quarter trailing 43-38. Yamaya Crawford (10 points) hit a short floater. Ashlee Cole (17 points) made a tough driving jumpshot. Keyona Allen (14 points) took command in the post. That was the beginning of an 11-1 run to start the fourth quarter that put the Lady Panthers up 49-44 with less than 3:00 left.
But Dutchtown returned to attacking the basket and driving into the wide open holes within Forest Park's defense.
Williams demanded more layups of her team in the fourth quarter. Settling for contested jumpshots was the cause of this predicament.
And yet when Trice caught a pass deep in the corner in transition without a Forest Park defender in range, she shot and made the 3-pointer to give Dutchtown a 53-52 lead and the final sway of momentum.
"I thought coach was going to yell at me," Trice said, "but I made the shot. She told us to drive for layups, but I saw that I was wide open, so I was like, 'Hey, let's shoot a 3.' And it went in."