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‘Best news’ for Forest Park: Second-round game at home

Photo by Jerry Jackson
Forest Park senior Ashlee Cole (12) and her teammates will get to play one more home game this season as the Lady Panthers take on Bainbridge tonight in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.

Photo by Jerry Jackson Forest Park senior Ashlee Cole (12) and her teammates will get to play one more home game this season as the Lady Panthers take on Bainbridge tonight in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.

A No. 4-seeded team upset a region champion in the first round of the Class AAAA girls basketball tournament.

The direct beneficiary: Bainbridge, the team that pulled off the upset. The indirect beneficiary: Forest Park, the team that gets to play at home tonight as a result.

Instead of traveling to the Savannah area for a second-round game against Richmond Hill, the Lady Panthers will take their shot at advancing into the quarterfinals against Bainbridge — all from the comforts of their home court tonight at 6 p.m.

Because the Lady Panthers are the higher seed — which would not have been the case had Bainbridge not upset Region 2-AAAA champion Richmond Hill 62-53 — home-court advantage transfers to them.

“That was the best news of all,” Forest Park coach Steven Cole said Monday. “We played them two years ago in the first round and we beat them. That’s about all we know about them.”

Bainbridge (17-11), which lost to Forest Park 51-43 two years ago, shouldn’t be able to sneak up on the Lady Panthers, either in ability or in strategy. Led by seniors Briana Wade and Ri’Chana Jackson and freshman Alex Carter, the Lady Bearcats have a potent perimeter game, as evidenced by the nine 3-pointers they made in knocking off a team that was 25-2 at the opening tipoff Friday.

Playing at home means the Lady Panthers can adhere to a more normal routine.

“When you’ve got to travel, it takes away practice time and knocks the girls out of their rhythm,” Cole said. “Being away is an uncomfortable thing.”

Forest Park (22-6), a state runner-up last season, comes into the game as battle-tested as any, after scraping by for a 35-34 victory against McIntosh in the first round last Friday. The Lady Panthers have struck a defiant tone against a rash of injuries that might have derailed a lesser team, and against anybody — internally or externally — who doubts they can go forward because of them.

“McIntosh just reassures us that we’re the team we thought we were,” Cole said. “We had a couple of injuries and doubt may have seeped in. It was a tough game for us.”

Bainbridge at Forest Park

When: Tonight, 6 p.m.

Records, rankings: Bainbridge is 17-11 and unranked; Forest Park is 22-6 and unranked.

What’s next: Winner takes on the Alcovy/Warner Robins winner at Fort Valley State in the quarterfinals.