By Brian Paglia
Mundy's Mill girls basketball coach Julius Omotayo walked out of the Lady Tigers' locker room without the dejected countenance that can come with a loss.
Instead, Omotayo walked out with a sprinkle of confidence, for Tuesday night he saw progress in his Mundy's Mill team. The Lady Tigers pushed sixth-ranked Forest Park to the end, falling 71-59 eventually at home in a Region 4-AAAA game.
Mundy's Mill (11-4, 8-3 Region 4-AAAA) was bewildered by the Lady Panthers' frenetic pressure defense in the teams' first meeting on Jan. 7, which Forest Park won, 63-35. On that night, Omotayo saw just how far his team had to go.
On Tuesday night, Omotayo saw how much his team has developed since then.
"I think the first game we were at their house and rattled. We just didn't play our style of basketball," Omotayo said. "This time we made some adjustments and played better as a team."
As evidence, there was the Lady Tigers' balanced scoring with sophomore Moneshia Dyer leading the way with 15 points. Cydnie Armstead scored 12 points, while Anikee Combee had nine points and junior standout Brianna McQueen added eight points.
And there was the way Mundy's Mill responded when it the game began to look like a familiar Forest Park rout.
The Lady Panthers started the second half with a 10-2 run that pushed their lead to 54-33, but the Lady Tigers battled back. By the end of the third quarter, that lead was down to 12. When Armstead made a steal at the top of the key and coasted to an easy lay-up, Mundy's Mill had cut its deficit down to 63-54 with four minutes left in the game.
Instead of faltering under Forest Park's full-court man defense, Mundy's Mill broke the Lady Panthers' press often. Instead of letting the game slip away with a torrent of turnovers, Mundy's Mill made Forest Park look disheveled in turning the ball over 14 times in the second half.
"The good teams we play for the second time should be prepared for us," Forest Park coach Steven Cole said. "I was expecting they would be prepared for our pressure and the other things we do."
But like the sixth-ranked team with four starters with semifinals experience, Forest Park adjusted down the stretch, slowing down its offense for the final three minutes to shorten the game and getting key baskets from Ashlee Cole (24 points) and Kayla Potts (11 points).
Keyona Allen added 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocks, while Nikki Wilson had nine points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four assists.
The victory extended Forest Park's winning streak to seven games, but gave Mundy's Mill reassurance that it's headed in the right direction.
"If you can take (Forest Park) down to the wire like we did, that makes us look pretty good," Omotayo said. "We're almost up there. We're making moves now. We still have some things to work on, but I'm proud of my ladies because they didn't give up."