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Forest Park takes on top-ranked Douglas County

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

Forest Park coach Steven Cole knows how his Douglas County counterpart Chet Forsh is feeling.

Since the state playoffs started, Douglas County has been looking for some 'respect' as the top-ranked Lady Tigers have breezed through their bracket.

Douglas County has won by an average of 18 points to arrive at today's Class AAAA semifinals game against Forest Park. But it seems as if no one is paying much attention.

Despite being ranked sixth in the state, some in the media had pegged Forest Park as the favorite to win state, especially after three-time defending champion Southwest DeKalb and previous No. 1 team Chamblee failed to make the tournament.

"I've heard where their coach says no one is giving them any respect," Cole said.

Forest Park was kind of in that situation last season after a surprising run to the Final Four. Cole took a large group of underclassmen to the school's first Final Four since winning the Class AAA title in 1970.

With the majority of the starters back, the Lady Panthers were expected to be among the favorites this season.

"I think there was a lot more pressure on us this season because of what we accomplished last season," Cole said.

For the most part, the Lady Panthers have lived up to the preseason hype. Forest Park didn't lose to an in-state opponent all season, and it is currently on a 17-game winning streak.

But Douglas County will likely be the team biggest in-state test of the season.

"I'm actually expecting a pretty good game seeing as they haven't lost a game yet," Forest Park senior Keyonna Allen said. "We really want to pass by how far we went last year. I'm expecting a good game, because they don't want to lose, and we don't either."

The lingering effects of last season's lost to eventual champion Southwest DeKalb in the semifinals has provided motivation this season for Forest Park.

"I think last year we didn't go full-out," Allen said. "We didn't feel the after-effects of losing. Now we know what that feels like, so we definitely don't want to have to go through that again."

Forest Park vs Douglas County

Record, rankings, seeding: Forest Park is 25-5, ranked No. 6 and is the top seed from Region 4-AAAA; Douglas County is 30-0, ranked No. 1 and is the top seed from Region 5-AAAA.

Date, time, location: Today, 4 p.m. at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth.

Getting there: Take I-85 North to the Exit 108 (Sugarloaf Parkway). Follow West exit ramp. Merge onto Sugarloaf Parkway and follow to arena on the left.

Tournament history: This will be Forest Park's second straight appearance in the Class AAAA semifinals. The Lady Panthers won the 1970 Class AAA championship, but hit a drought. Until this season, Douglas County last appeared in the semifinals in 1965. The school's last seven state playoff appearances ended with a first round loss.

Starting lineups: Douglas County -- F Kristina Wells (5-9, Sr.), G Amadi Brooks (5-10, Sr.), C Christin Mercer (6-0, Jr.); G Latara Spriggs (5-5, Jr.) and G Monique Wells (5-3, Sr.); Forest Park -- G Ashlee Cole (5-10, Jr.), G Jessica Anderson (5-6, Sr.), G Kayla Potts (5-8, Fr.), C Keyonna Allen (6-1, Sr.), F Nikki Wilson (6-0, Sr.).

Scouting Douglas County: Kristina Wells, no relation to Monique, is the leader of the team. The Kennesaw State signee is averaging 16.9 points per game. Mercer has perhaps the best upside when it comes to college potential. She runs the floor well and can handle the ball. When the Lady Tigers need perimeter scoring, Spriggs and Monique Wells will likely take the 3s. Viveca Jones, Kianna Glover and Arlicia Turner come off the bench to give Douglas County some quality minutes. The team plays a variety of man, zone and press defenses.

Scouting Forest Park: Throughout the course of the season, Lady Panthers' coach Steven Cole substituted five players at a time while applying full-court pressure defense. In the last two playoff games, he has been more conservative in his substitution patterns. Guard Ashlee Cole is the scoring leader with a 15-point average, but Potts has been very versatile. The Lady Panthers have won 17 straight games, and has yet to lose to an in-state team. Both Allen and Wilson can pound the boards with Potts, Cole and Anderson providing the perimeter scoring.

How they got here: Douglas County defeated Sequoyah (70-50), Mays (80-55), Miller Grove (61-50); Forest Park defeated Ware County (78-43), McIntosh (51-49), Statesboro (47-41).

-- Compiled by Derrick Mahone