Photo by Jerry Jackson
Forest Park players and coaches showoff their Region 4-AAAAA championship trophy after Friday's win over McIntosh.
McDONOUGH — They knew it would not be pretty. They knew they would have to value every possession. Still, that did not deter the Forest Park Lady Panthers from claiming their second region title in three years.
Kayla Potts scored half of her team’s points and Forest Park controlled the boards on its way to a 34-30 victory over McIntosh and Region 4-AAAAA championship.
“It feels good,” Potts said. “This was our main focus. First get the region championship and go on to state and win that too.”
Her coach, Steve Cole, agreed on what winning a region title can mean. “Everytime you accomplish one of your goals you’re going to get some momentum,” Cole said.
An Imani Richards basket followed by a Kayla Potts 3-pointer helped the Lady Panthers to a 25-22 lead with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter, giving them a pinch of breathing room.
As big as Potts’ 17 points was, Forest Park would not be region champs without strong play in the paint. Tiffany Wilson kept the lead at three points when she scored inside to make the score 29-26 with 2:35 left to play. The score stayed that way thanks to a Breasia McElrath shot block of Abby Birrell with 2:10 showing on the clock. Wilson matched her seven points with seven rebounds, while McElrath had a game-high 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Potts got loose on a designed play out of a timeout, as she scored to push the lead to 31-26. McIntosh still did not go away. Amanda Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead 31-29. A pair of Potts free throws pushed Forest Park’s advantage to 33-29 with 30 seconds left to play and the game was not sealed until Wilson hit a free throw with eight seconds left to play.
Just like their regular season meeting when they combined for 49 points, McIntosh (23-3) tends to bring out a methodical style of play in Forest Park. “It’s like a chess match when we play them,” Cole said. “They are a very sound team. They do a lot of things right, so we have to slow down and make sure we’re doing everything right. Every trip down the court is precious, so we have to take care of the ball.”
The Lady Panthers scored the first seven points of the game but could not build a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Unbelievably, McIntosh outscored Forest Park 2-1 in the third quarter to tie the game at 20.
The game was physical as well. For the second night in a row Forest Park (22-7) played with out a starter in the second quarter. After Potts was in foul trouble in the semifinals, Kanisha Tharpe was sidelined in the championship game after losing a tooth in the first quarter. She briefly returned for the start of the third quarter.
As the No. 1 seed in Region 4, the Lady Panthers will host the No. 4 seed from Region 1 in the first round of the state tournament. Thanks to its three region tournament victories, Forest Park wraps up region play a perfect 18-0.
Gabby Seiler led McIntosh with 13 points.