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Defensive effort lifts Forest Park to 39-30 win

Photo by Jerry Jackson
Forest Park forward Tiffany Wilson (right) finished with 11 points in the Lady Panthers win over visiting Northside-Warner Robins in a second round Class AAAAA contest on Friday.

Photo by Jerry Jackson Forest Park forward Tiffany Wilson (right) finished with 11 points in the Lady Panthers win over visiting Northside-Warner Robins in a second round Class AAAAA contest on Friday.

FOREST PARK — Forest Park coach Steven Cole is in a familiar position.

His Lady Panthers notched a 39-30 grind-it-out win over Northside-Warner Robins in Friday’s Class AAAAA second round playoff game, and punched their ticket to the state quarterfinals for at the fourth straight season.

In a game where Forest Park led the entire way, but never looked truly comfortable, Cole praised his defense as the key for allowing his Lady Panthers to advance.

“That’s what we’re going to do here at Forest Park,” Cole said. “On the night that we don’t play defense we’re probably going to lose because we don’t score a whole lot.”

Forest Park built a 29-15 lead at the break, and extended it to 15 points in the third quarter before Northside began an 8-0 run, keyed by a three pointer by Tia Williams and a long jumper by Shambria Smith.

That cut Forest Park’s advantage down to 35-30 with 2:50 left in the game. Lady Panthers center Kesha Tharpe hit a 15-foot jumper with a hand in her face to extend the lead back to seven points.

Cole’s squad played solid defense, holding the Lady Eagles scoreless the rest of the way.

Tiffany Wilson led the Lady Panthers with a game-high 11 points, including two early buckets as Forest Park raced out to an 11-2 lead, thanks in part to an aggressive 1-2-2 full court trap defense that forced five early turnovers.

Northside settled down and began to climb back in it when Williams scored on a putback layup and then buried a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to close the gap to 12-7 going into the second quarter.

And that’s when the scoring drought hit the Panthers.

Forest Park went over 12 minutes — from the 6:24 mark in the first quarter to the 3:15 mark in the second — without a field goal. By the time senior guard Tequilla Richardson hit back-to-back jumpers just inside the right elbow, Forest Park still led 16-11 with 2:28 left before the break.

The brief field goal hiatus was not due to a lack of opportunities, however, said Cole.

“We came out a bit faster in the beginning of the game,” he said. “They were excited to play and had a lot of energy. But sometimes you get a lead and you stop being as aggressive on offense. We had opportunities on fast breaks. We just couldn’t make the layups.”

Missing open layups and close range shots is something Forest Park has done in its first two playoff games, but Cole said it’s nothing that he’s overly concerned with.

“When that happens, we just talk to them and calm them down and remind them to just go out and make basic plays,” Cole said. “We just try to help them keep a good rhythm on offense.”

Kayla Potts chipped in seven points for the Panthers who raised their record to 23-7 with the win. They will play Hardaway in Columbus on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round.

Williams led Northside with nine points.