By Brian Paglia
When all else fails for Forest Park -- when its shooting is inconsistent, when only 39 percent of its free throws are made, when turnovers spoil offensive opportunities -- its defense remains reliable.
In their first game since falling out of the Class AAAA top-10 rankings, the Lady Panthers put on a familiar defensive clinic, stifling Mundy's Mill junior Brianna McQueen and cruising to a 63-35 win at home Friday in a Region 4-AAAA game.
Between forcing 31 turnovers and blocking 10 shots, including eight by Keyona Allen, Forest Park (10-5, 8-0) overcame an otherwise sluggish performance in various other parts of its game.
"I think we played with great intensity, but we played a little sloppy," Forest Park coach Steven Cole said. "But we're still getting back from the trip and getting everybody playing. I think once we get a couple more games under our belt we'll play a lot more smooth."
Beset by illness and lacking a full roster, Forest Park appeared vulnerable against impressive out-of-state competition in two holiday tournaments. It lost four games against ranked opponents from surrounding states, and so the Lady Panthers fell out of the latest Gasports.com Coaches Poll.
Now healthy, back in Georgia and with a complete roster, the Lady Panthers have returned to its accustomed dominance.
Friday night it took a quarter to get there. Mundy's Mill (8-2, 5-2) came in riding an eight-game winning streak and determined to pass its first test since losing to No. 8 North Clayton in its season-opener. Four different Lady Tigers' scored, and Mundy's Mill led 11-10 after one quarter.
"Before we went out there, coach told us to keep hustling and working hard," Forest Park senior Jessica Anderson said. "That's what we did."
Anderson gave the Lady Panthers a much-needed spark in the second quarter. She hit back-to-back 3s, part of her game-high 17 points, to put Forest Park up 19-13.
"For me to do that, it takes five of us," Anderson said. "It's not just one person. I felt like we all put in good work and effort. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
After Nikki Wilson (seven points, eight rebounds, five assists) made a transition lay-up, Mundy's Mill coach Julius Omotayo called a timeout, hoping to get his Lady Tigers to regroup, but to no avail.
By halftime, Forest Park had built a 37-21 lead.
"I know Coach Cole's teams always bring pressure, so my philosophy was just to get the ball into the middle and try to break that pressure. But the pressure was too much," Omotayo said. "It rattled us. We had them on the ropes in the first quarter, but you don't win the game in the first quarter."
Forest Park's pressure helped hold Mundy's Mill standout junior Brianna McQueen to just six points, almost 14 points below her season average, and none in the second half.
"We knew she was their best player," Cole said, "and we figured if we could eliminate her points, than the game would pretty much be in hand."