Photo by Jerry Jackson
Forest Park guard Ashlee Cole drives against Lovejoy’s Navilla Paul in the Lady Panthers’ win on Thursday that puts them in the Region 4-AAAA championship game for the third straight season.
Head coach Steven Cole said his Forest Park Lady Panthers’ 58-53 Region 4-AAAA Tournament victory over Lovejoy was a tale of two halves. He just wished his team could have performed a sequel of the first one.
Ashlee Cole’s game-high 22 points jump-started the Lady Panthers to a comfortable first-half lead, but Forest Park needed clutch fourth-quarter free-throw shooting to escape a late surge by the Lady Wildcats.
Complacency wasn’t the problem, Cole said. Caution was.
“In the first half we played to build a lead,” said Cole. “But in the second half it was as if we just tried to sit on the lead.”
It almost backfired on the regular-season region leaders. After battling Lovejoy in the first quarter, holding a 15-13 lead, Forest Park pressed and trapped its way to a dominating defensive effort in the second quarter, forcing the Lady Wildcats into nine turnovers in the period alone. The Panthers closed out the first half with a 10-1 run, holding Lovejoy to just one second-quarter field goal while building a 30-16 advantage.
Lovejoy seemed a couple of steps quicker in the third quarter, closing the deficit to six on the way into the fourth quarter. The Lady Wildcats continued to nip at Forest Park’s heels when Navilla Paul knocked down a 3-pointer that brought them within one point with less than five minutes left in regulation.
But Raven Wynn slashed the lane for a layup and converted on a three-point play to push Forest Park’s lead back to four points. Wynn’s 14 points aided the Lady Panthers, who were operating with a short-handed roster, as center Lisa Pease and Kayla Potts were out with injuries.
“We’ve been playing with a depleted lineup and perhaps fatigue played a part in our effort today,” said Cole. “But we still have to play smarter than that as we advance to Jonesboro. The team that plays smarter usually beats the team that has more talent.”
Without Pease and Potts, whom Cole said would likely be out for the remainder of the season, Forest Park had to rely on freshman post players Kanesha Tharpe and Breasia McElrath to fill the void.
“They played pretty well,” Cole said. “They’re going to have to get used to playing against better talent though. It’s a huge difference between playing a freshman game and a varsity game.”
Forest Park indeed gets an opponent who will provide a step up in talent, as it prepares to face Jonesboro in the region championship today. The Lady Cardinals beat Forest Park 52-39 in their last regular-season meeting after losing 47-44 in the first.
Forest Park improves to 21-5 overall while Lovejoy dropped to 14-9. Paul led the Lady Wildcats with 21 points, while Alexus Akins and Alease Allen chipped in with nine apiece.