By Derrick Mahone
FORT VALLEY -- Forest Park coach Steven Cole saw that his team was down, but he knew they weren't out.
The unranked Panthers overcame a 10-point second half deficit against Statesboro Friday for a 50-44 win in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA tournament at Fort Valley State.
Sophomore Ashlee Cole and senior Jessica Anderson provided the Panthers with the offensive firepower in the fourth-quarter comeback. Cole had a team-high 19 points, 12 in the fourth quarter while Anderson had 12 points, 10 in the fourth.
Down 32-22 with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter, the Panther mounted a comeback sparked by Cole and Anderson. It was a
"That was tough," Forest Park coach Steven Cole said. "We weren't having much luck with our offense, so we had to turn up our defensive pressure. We tried to detect the tempo, and forced them into some turnovers."
And that strategy worked as Statesboro committed eight fourth quarter turnovers and managed only three points for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Forest Park tied the game at 35-35 on a free throw from Anderson with 3:48 remaining.
Ashlee Cole give the Panthers the lead for good at 37-35 with 2:45 remaining, and from there, Statesboro wouldn't challenge again.
Forest Park, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAA, earned its first trip to the final four since 1970. The Panthers will play the winner of the Southwest DeKalb/Loganville game Wednesday at 7 p.m. At the Gwinnett Arena.
"This is real special for this team, because we are such a close-knit group," Steven Cole said. "I think our closeness is what it special. It has been a long time for Forest Park, and we are excited."
Forest Park cold shooting began in the second quarter when it went the last four minutes of the quarter without a basket. As a results, the Panthers trailed 26-17 at the halftime.
"We couldn't make a basket, but we had to play through it," Ashlee Cole said. "We have been in that situation before, and we felt we could make a comeback. We were able to hold it together."
The Panthers were able to hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Forest Park made 12 of 18 free throws in the final quarter. Forest Park outscored the Blue Devils 26-12 in the final period.
"There was no panic in the team, but we were frustrated because of all the missed shots, especially layups," Steven Coach said.
"The key was to keep playing," Keyona Allen said. "We kept our heads up and stayed motivated."