By Brian Paglia
Standing between midcourt and the top of the 3-point arc, Forest Park sophomore guard Ashlee Cole swiftly pulled up and fired a long, LONG range shot. There was no other choice, for once the ball left her fingertips, the buzzer sounded and the third quarter was complete.
Whether the ball went in or not made little statistical difference in the game. Forest Park would go into the fourth quarter with a lead regardless.
But once the shot left her hand, Cole was overcome with certainty.
"I knew it was going in, because I always have confidence in my shot," Cole said. "So I felt like it was going to go in."
When Cole's shot fell smoothly through the net, she pumped her fist while her teammates jumped in exultation off the bench. Another quarter was still left to play, but Cole's miraculous jumper seemingly gave the Lady Panthers unwavering confidence in the fourth quarter and all the momentum they needed for the 74-55 victory against Region 4-AAAA adversary and No. 10-ranked Dutchtown on Tuesday.
After Cole's jumper at the buzzer, Forest Park (13-2, 7-0) continued on a 10-0 run to begin the fourth quarter and seize control of the game. Cole finished with 34 points, half coming in the fourth quarter, but none had as much impact on the game as her 3 near midcourt.
"We were getting down," Cole said, "so we needed something to bring us back up, to lift our spirit, because you could tell our spirit was getting down when (Dutchtown) made their run."
Indeed, the Lady Bulldogs (11-2, 6-1) had spent nearly two quarters atoning for a poor first quarter in which they saw Forest Park take a 19-7 lead. Slowly, Dutchtown crafted a comeback using a variety of defensive looks to slow the Lady Panthers.
Dutchtown's gradual resurgence erupted in the third quarter. Abria Trice (15 points) made an inbound alley-oop, a transition backdoor layup and later a 3 from the corner to cap an 11-0 run by the Lady Bulldogs for a 42-40 lead with 1:51 left in the quarter.
"We were still focused," said Forest Park junior forward Keyonna Allen, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. "Whether (Dutchtown) was up or not, we weren't going to lose focus."
"Every team is going to make a run," Lady Panthers coach Steven Cole said. "I just tell my team, 'How are we going to react to their runs they make?' We handled it real well."
Ashlee Cole's 3 certainly helped, but so did balanced scoring -- Jessica Anderson had 11 points, Nikki Wilson added eight and freshman Raven Wynn scored seven off the bench -- and persistent man defense that held Dutchtown's Strickland twins to just 25 points combined.
Dutchtown coach Angela Williams left stunned by the Lady Panthers' wide margin of victory.
"There's no way in this world that I believe (Forest Park) is 20 points better than us," Williams said. "But I'll give it to them. They had a great shooting night."
Forest Park left with first place in the region and a bit more confidence.
"This really is a big game for us," Cole said. "It gives us some type of respect. It gives us some credibility."
Dutchtown boys 57, Forest Park 50
The Bulldogs withstood a valiant comeback by the Panthers to escape with a region victory at home and extend their winning streak to four games.
Derrick Brock scored 24 points to lead Dutchtown (6-7, 3-4). Alphonzo Reid added 15 and Kellan Holiday scored nine.
Jordan Enadeghe led Forest Park (2-13, 1-6) with 20.