Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
They have taken their blows, but no one has been able to take them down.
Judging from the way the regular season has played out, it seems as if the Region 4-AAAA tournament championship is Forest Park's to lose.
"They are the clear favorite," Mundy's Mill coach Julius Omotayo said. "They should be because of the way they dominated the region."
But Omotayo and the rest of the coaches in the region are just not ready to give the fifth-ranked Lady Panthers the region championship just yet.
"Honestly, anything can happen, but they should be favorite," Omotayo said. "You never know."
Forest Park, which has not lost to a team in Georgia this season, has cruised through its region schedule. The closes any region team has come to winning has been an 10-point game by North Clayton on Tuesday.
The Lady Panthers close out the regular season at home against Mount Zion tonight.
Forest Park realizes that everyone will be aiming for them at next week's tournament.
"We are not taking anyone for granted," Lady Panthers center Keyonna Allen said. "We will come into every game focused, because we know people are after us."
Despite Forest Park's dominance, other coaches expect the other three spots for the state playoffs to be closely contested. As the region runner-up last season, Forest Park was able to advance to the state semifinals. With almost the entire lineup intact, the Lady Panthers were expected to have another good season.
So far, they haven't disappointed. Newcomer Kayla Potts has been steady at the point guard position despite only being a freshman.
Transfer Kierra Dennis, a West Georgia signee, has been instant offense off the bench with her perimeter scoring.
But the rest of the region teams have battled each other all season.
Mundy's Mill got a big confidence boost Thursday when it went on the road and upset fourth-ranked Redan, a team that has been to the Class AAAAA state finals the last three seasons.
Two of North Clayton's six losses have come against higher ranked teams - Hillgrove and Westlake. The team's only other non-region loss was against Drew.
Although he doesn't have any seniors on the roster, Jonesboro coach Michael House is confident his team will do well in the region tournament.
"If we get everybody clicking on the same night, we can be hard to beat," House said. "We like our chances. This is a pretty balanced region the rest of the way."
Jonesboro can wrap up the fifth seed for next week's tournament with a win over Tri-Cities coupled with a loss by Lovejoy at North Clayton on Friday. Seeding will be important in the region tournament since the second through fifth seeds only have to win one game to make it into the state tournament.
Forest Park has the luxury of knowing that it in the state tournament after securing the top seed. But the Lady Panthers are taking no one lightly.
"We are never relaxed," Forest Park senior forward Nikki Wilson said. "We know everyone will bring their best at us."
Region 4-AAAA Tournament
At A Glance
Favorite: Forest Park - The Lady Panthers are the only ranked team in the region and have not lost to an in-state team this season. Freshman Kayla Potts has been a steady performer at the point guard position among a veteran lineup.
Contenders: North Clayton and Mundy's Mill - These two teams have split during the regular with each winning on their home floor. North Clayton started winning its first seven games and got ranked. The Eagles are led by senior center Miranda Cantrell, who average double figure points and rebounds. Junior guard Briana McQueen has provided the leadership and scoring.
Sleepers: Jonesboro - Despite its youth, the Lady Cardinals could finish in fifth place with a win over Tri-Cities and a loss by Lovejoy to North Clayton. Sophomore Briana Benson has been the glue to the team with sophomore point guard Victoria Florence helping with the leadership. Jonesboro doesn't have a senior on its roster.
Did you know?: Since Forest Park is the top seed it will automatically be in one of the tournament's semifinals game, which gives them a berth into the state playoffs.