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Forest Park, Fayette square off in the Class AAAA finals

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

At this point, Forest Park and Fayette County are not looking at making any drastic changes.

And why would they?

The two highly-ranked teams will meet this afternoon at the Arena at Gwinnett Center for the Class AAAA championship. Each of the teams head into the 3 p.m. game on an18-game winning streaks.

"There's no game-planning," Fayette County coach John Strickland said moments after his team's semifinals win over Chattahoochee Wednesday. "By three o'clock, you have to be ready to bring it on."

This will be the Lady Tigers, who are ranked No. 3 in the latest coaches' poll with a 27-5 record, third shot at a championship in the last four seasons. The Tigers lost to Southwest DeKalb in the 2008 and '09 finals.

"We know right now we're either going to get a big cup, or a we're going to get a small cup," Strickland said. "We've got two small cups. We want the big cup."

To do so, Fayette County will have to defeat a Lady Panthers team that hasn't lost a game to an in-state opponent all season. Forest Park last lost to a Georgia team in last season's semifinals to Southwest DeKalb.

"This is a big ballgame, we have to come to play," Forest Park coach Steven Cole said.

Many of the current Forest Park players were not even born the last time a Clayton County girls basketball team won a state championship.

It was 18 years ago when Morrow won the last of its four in the state's highest classification. This afternoon, the sixth-ranked Forest Park Lady Panthers will try to end that drought when they take on No. 3 Fayette County at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Forest Park was the first county team to raise a championship banner when the school won the Class AAA title in 1970. But Lady Panthers coach Steven Cole sees this as winning more than just a basketball game, but an opportunity to offer further healing to the once-troubled school system that was on the verge of losing its all-important accreditation.

"Everybody knows the trouble that Clayton County has been going through," Cole said. "We're no longer just representing Forest Park High School. Right now we're representing Clayton County. This just does wonders."

Both coaches agree that the key will be which team settles down first and get into a rhythm will likely be able to control the team. Both can play at a fast-past, but Fayette County has a dominating center in South Carolina signee Elem Ibiam, a 6-foot-4 senior.

In its win over top-ranked Douglas County Wednesday, Forest Park overcame a third-quarter scoring drought to take control of the game. Fayette County broke a close game against No. 2 Chattahoochee open

in the third quarter.

"You just have to eliminate your turnovers, and settle down," Strickland said. "At this stage, you just have to do what got you here. We are not going to change anything. At this point everything is the same."

Forest Park vs Fayette Count

Record, rankings, seeding: Forest Park is 26-5, ranked No. 6 and is the top seed from Region 4-AAAA; Fayette County is 27-5, ranked No. 3 and is the top seed from Region 3-AAAA.

Date, time, location: Today, 3 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.

Starting lineups: Fayette County -- G Kyra King (5-3, Sr.), G Aneesa Watson (5-10, So.), G Brianna Banks (5-9, Sr.), G Keyondra Jenkins (5-5, So.), C Elem Ibiam (6-4, 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 report: Fayette County has five players that have signed college scholarships with UConn signee Brianna Banks leading the way. Three times a week, Fayette County held early morning practices. Tybreanna Couch, a 5-10 reserve is coming off a knee injury and has signed with Clayton State. Candice Williams, a freshman is the daughter of former Dutchtown coach Angela Williams. Both teams have won 18 straight games and are their respective region champion. This will be Fayette County's third appearance in the finals in the last five years while Forest Park is making its first since winning the 1970 champion. In its win over top-ranked Douglas County Wednesday, Lady Panthers freshman Kayla Potts had 18 points.

-- Compiled by Derrick Mahone