Photo by Jerry Jackson
Jonesboro’s Chukedubem Okeke swats away a shot by Forest Park’s Costa Anderson. Okeke also contributed on offense, scoring 11 points, as the Cardinals prevailed 47-45.
Jonesboro vs. Forest Park, Part III — a tale of frustration, of perseverance, of redemption and, finally, of triumph in triplicate.
Patrick Petty had uncharacteristically missed every free throw he fired — all five of them — right up until there were only 13 seconds left in Thursday’s first Region 4-AAAA Tournament semifinal at Tri-Cities High. Then, he calmly sank the two that sealed a 47-45 Jonesboro victory and sent the Cardinals to today’s championship game.
“He wanted to get down on himself, but I kept telling him, ‘You get the ball, I want the ball in your hands,’ ” Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. “And then he hit two big free throws to seal the game.”
Said Petty, “Coach kept telling me to shoot them with confidence and I made the adjustment.”
Petty’s frustration ended there. Forest Park coach Antonio Wade’s did not.
“I don’t know what it is, but it seemed like we didn’t take advantage of the moment,” Wade said. “We didn’t grasp the opportunity to do something special. I’m frustrated. It’s very frustrating.”
It was the third time the Panthers (16-10) lost to Jonesboro (23-3) this season, none by more than two points. This wasn’t as nail-biting as the other two, as Forest Park never could get over the hump or draw even when the opportunities presented themselves. This was more like a five-point game, but Lemuel Fuller’s 3-pointer for Forest Park at the final buzzer technically made it fall in line with the others.
“We are a good enough team, but to me it’s mental,” Wade said. “They (the Cardinals) were ready mentally from the start. That’s where we lost the game. We weren’t mentally ready.”
There’ll be no argument on that point from Maehlman, who has constantly marveled at the confidence with which his Cardinals have gone about their business all season.
“Our kids really believe in themselves,” Maehlman said. “They don’t seem to get down on themselves. I knew it was going to be a dogfight because Forest Park is well-coached, they play hard and within the system. ... I’m proud of my kids. I told them in the locker room, it’s almost like they expected to be in the region championship. Just the demeanor they have, you can tell. I asked them, ‘Did you expect to be in the region championship?’ and every last one of them said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Petty finished with a team-high 13 points, with Chukedubem Okeke adding 11 and Casey Wells 10. Fuller led Forest Park with 17.
After trailing by seven at halftime, the Panthers got Jonesboro’s attention by climbing to within 42-40 with 5:31 to go as Branden Williams made two free throws.
The Panthers had three opportunities to tie, but a missed shot, a traveling violation and an offensive foul on what looked to be a tying basket by Costa Anderson negated them.
“We’ve got to learn to close a team out better,” Petty said. “We had them where we wanted them at halftime, then gave up 21 points in the third quarter.”
Wade’s much less worried about the way Jonesboro closes out games than he is about the way Forest Park opens them. While the Cardinals will play the winner of Thursday’s late game between top-seeded Lovejoy and fourth-seeded North Clayton for the title today, the Panthers will play the loser for third place.
Wade doesn’t know which team will show up, but he hopes it’s not the team that boarded the bus and departed Forest Park looking and feeling flat.
“It started when we left,” Wade said. “I felt like I was more excited than them. I can’t play any more. I hope we don’t just turn it in for the game. We’ve got the same chance as any of the 32 teams (in the state tournament) no matter who we have to play.”