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Lady Panthers learning how to win

Forest Park pitcher Liz Rexrode recorded 13 strikeouts in the Lady Panthers’ 12-6 win over Jonesboro in the Clayton County softball tournament championship game. (Staff Photo: Gabriel Stovall)

Forest Park pitcher Liz Rexrode recorded 13 strikeouts in the Lady Panthers’ 12-6 win over Jonesboro in the Clayton County softball tournament championship game. (Staff Photo: Gabriel Stovall)

HAMPTON — The last time they made it that far, it didn’t end so well.

It was 2009. And the Panthers had just finished defeating Morrow in the semifinals, to set up a county softball championship game against Mundy’s Mill.

Forest Park built a lead, only to it and the county title in a 23-14 slugfest.

“They just ran out of gas,” Forest Park assistant coach Courtney Stovall said.

But there was plenty of fuel in the tank this time as Forest Park clinched the title with a win over defending champion Jonesboro earlier this week at the Gerald Matthews Complex in Hampton.

After losing their first game to Lovejoy (3-2), the Panthers bounced back, routing Mount Zion 17-0, exacting revenge on Lovejoy to the tune of 12-1, and then disposing of Drew 10-5 in order to get the chance to play for the title.

The current group of seniors were eighth-graders the last time Forest Park got this far, so they weren’t apart of that loss. But that didn’t diminish the joy experienced by being apart of the winning team this time around.

“It’s just amazing,” said a weeping Liz Rexrode immediately after the game. “To come out here and be able to do this for my coaches and my teammates. It’s just indescribable.”

Rexrode’s performance during Monday’s semifinal and championship games could be described as pretty remarkable. The senior totaled 23 strikeouts combined, and pitched herself and her team out of several jams that could’ve easily coaxed the ghosts of 2009 to show themselves.

But first-year head coach Christina Mathis said she’s seen enough from this team — especially her seniors — that convinced her that there would be no meltdown this time around.

“I was just ecstatic at the way they played,” Mathis said. “They didn’t give up. They were tired. But they dug deep. I was so proud, especially with my seniors.”

They are Rexrode, Kaylin Bob, Kierra Furlow, Nadia Crawford, Rayvionna Elliot and Jasmin Cos. This, Mathis said, is the foundation for what she believes could become a burgeoning softball program in the county.

“It helps immensely with our future progress,” Mathis said. “It gives us confidence and stabilizes our mentality to help us keep going.”