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Forest Park seniors fierce in regular-season finale

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park senior Cydni Bivins is escorted by her mother, Terri Bivins, during “Senior Night” ceremonies following the Lady Panthers’ win over North Clayton on Tuesday in a Region 4-AAAA contest.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Forest Park senior Cydni Bivins is escorted by her mother, Terri Bivins, during “Senior Night” ceremonies following the Lady Panthers’ win over North Clayton on Tuesday in a Region 4-AAAA contest.

What better night for the Forest Park Lady Panthers to flex their muscles and show off the dominance that has become the norm.

It was Senior Night, and Ashlee Cole made her last Forest Park home game a good one Tuesday, notching a game-high 22 points and draining four from 3-point range, en route to a 70-42 drubbing of the North Clayton Lady Eagles.

“We came out and played inspired ball tonight on Senior Night and I think the seniors went out in convincing fashion,” Forest Park coach Steven Cole said. “It’s been special coaching these seniors, most of them I’ve known since they were little kids.”

This senior class has grown up to be one of the winningest groups to come through the hallowed halls of Forest Park High School with a 52-3 region mark over the last three years under Cole. The Region 4-AAAA victory was the Lady Panthers’ 13th win in their last 14 games.

Although replacing them will be tough, Cole believes that these seniors have laid a foundation that his program can build on in the future.

“This senior class is leaving a lasting legacy of hard work, sportsmanship and commitment to the program,” Cole said.

And how about the opportunity to successfully coach your own daughter?

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “To coach and follow Ashlee through high school and into college, it’s a very special thing for me.”

Forest Park made quick work of the Lady Eagles, pressuring them into six first-quarter turnovers out of a 1-2-2 full-court press and racing out to a 15-1 advantage in the first three minutes of the game. After taking a 40-24 lead into halftime, North Clayton could never reduce the deficit to anything closer than 13.

Going into an eight-day layoff, Cole said his team’s effort was exactly what he was looking for to set the tone for the extended season.

“Going into the region tourney, we wanted to have a strong performance like this,” he said. “We’re probably going to take a couple of days off before doing some scrimmaging to keep them running. It feels good going in to know that we are already going to state.”

As satisfying as this victory was for the third-ranked Lady Panthers, it did not come without a price. With less than two minutes gone by in the second quarter, senior center Lisa Pease went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. She did not return to the game, and her timetable for playing again this season is uncertain.

“We won’t know what her status is until we get the MRI, but we’re not too sure if she’ll be ready to play next week,” Cole said.

Pease is the third Forest Park player to go down with a leg injury this season, joining guard Kayla Potts and forward Tiffany Wilson. For Cole, that just means it’s time for other players to emerge. He specifically mentioned his “twin tower” freshmen Kanisha Tharpe and Breasia McElrath — both of whom played extensively — as players who must make an immediate impact to help make up any time Pease may be absent.

“We will have to have those two step up and fill the void now,” said Cole. “It’s a big job for two freshmen, but this is a sport. Some will fall and others have to step up.”

In addition to Ashlee Cole’s 22 points, fellow seniors Tamara Brewster and Kristin Pittman chipped in with 12 and seven points, respectively, as Forest Park finished the regular season 20-5 overall and 17-1 in region play. North Clayton fell to 12-11 with an 11-7 region record.

Despite the injuries, Cole is not planning to hold back the Panthers’ postseason preparations.

“We won’t change what we do,” he said. “We’re physical and we’ll practice the way we play.”