Photo by Heather Middleton
By Doug Gorman
A year ago, the Forest Park Lady Panthers snuck up on some teams on their way to the Class AAAA Final Four.
There won't be any of that this year. Everybody knows about Forest Park and its No.-6 state ranking in the Gasports.com Class AAAA Coaches' poll.
Still, the Lady Panthers are determined to get back to the Gwinnett Arena and play for the state title.
They took the first step Friday night at home against visiting Ware County, and it wasn't even close, as the Lady Panthers led from start to finish en route to a 79-43 victory in the first round of the Class AAAA Tournament.
Forest Park has now won 16 in a row to improve its overall record to 23-5.
The Lady Panthers' only losses this year have been in tournaments against squads outside the state of Georgia.
Forest Park head coach Steven Cole liked the energy his team displayed in its first-round win.
"I thought we started out real strong," he said. "I thought the second half we could have played a little bit better and played more team ball, but all in all I am pleased."
The victory sends the Lady Panthers to the second round against McIntosh Tuesday night at Forest Park.
The Lady Panthers are already looking toward that matchup, taking little time to celebrate Friday's victory.
"This year everybody is expecting us to win," said Nikki Wilson. "If we are not hitting shots, we have to make sure we are playing good defense."
Forest Park scored early and often against the Lady Gators in the first quarter and built a 24-7 lead at the end of the period.
Ashlee Cole and Raven Wynn each hit 3-point shots in the first period to help the Lady Panthers pull away from the Lady Gators.
Ware County got within five points at 12-7 midway through the first period when Shequoyah McPherson stepped up and hit a 3-pointer, but Forest Park put the game away with a 12-0 run to close out the quarter.
Forest Park extended its lead to 36-17 at the break. Ashlee Cole's 3-point shot in the second quarter gave the Lady Panthers a 31-8 lead.
She was one of three players to finish in double figures for the Lady Panthers. Cole already had 15 points at the break and led all scorers with 26 points.
Teammates Raven Wilson and freshman point guard Kayla Potts each added 10 for Forest Park.
Dinecici Howard led Ware County with 13 points.
The 16-game winning streak doesn't mean much for players like Ashlee Cole. She knows from here on out the Lady Panthers win or go home.
"We know we have to be prepared for every game," she said. "We put our shoes on just like they put their shoes on. We have to be ready all the time.
Forest Park relied on 3-point shots from Cyndi Bivins and Potts in the the third quarter and pushed the lead to 59-33 at the break.
Potts wasn't not even in high school when the Lady Panthers made their trek to the Final Four last year, but the freshman point guard is helping her team run the show this season.
"I have learned a lot from my teammates about getting ready to play in the state tournament," she said.
Ware County closes out its season with an 11-17 record.