LOVEJOY — Sometimes a team’s greatest weakness is something that is outside of their control.

That is the case for the Forest Park Lady Panthers (22-3), they have an incredibly talented roster that has great balance between their strong inside game led by Sania Feagin and their outside guard play from Sarah Matthews and are disciplined and well coached by Steven Cole. In 95% of the GHSA regions in the state of Georgia, they would be the favorite going away. Unfortunately, they are in Region 4-AAAAAA with an all-time great team, the defending state champion Lovejoy Lady Wildcats (22-3). They played for the second time this season Saturday night, and once again the Lady Wildcats won 55-50.

The game was so anticipated that the order was switched, the boys played first leaving the girls game as the main event, and neither team disappointed to the delight of the packed house. Lovejoy, who has not lost to a team from the state of Georgia in 414 days, got off to a slow start as the Lady Panthers raced to an early 13-4 lead. Lovejoy’s shots were not falling, and the Lady Panthers seized momentum.

While they looked to withstand the Forest Park momentum and gain some ground, one thing was happening in their favor, the forced three offensive fouls early in the paint that would have a subtle but profound effect for the rest of the game. Behind the play of Matthews and Feagin, the Lady Panthers had a 17-8 first quarter lead. Every time the Lady Wildcats would claw their way back, Forest Park would answer.

All of that changed in the third quarter, The Lady Wildcats, rejuvenated by Head Coach Cedric King at halftime, took control to start the second half and with a 14-5 run lead by Genesis Bryant and Anaya Boyd, they had their first lead with 2:48 remaining in the third at 32-31. From there the game was back and forth, the Lady Panthers had the advantage on the boards while the Lady Wildcats had their outside shot working.

With 3:19 remaining, Forest Park held a one-point lead, but the versatile Lady Wildcat Lashanti Blount, who always brings energy to the court, sank a three right in front of the Lovejoy bench that gave them the lead they would never relinquish. Those were her only points of the game. She would come up big again just a few moments later with a steal and a long pass to Bryant for the fast break. In the end, Boyd dribbled the clock out for the 55-50 win.

With the region tournament next week and the inevitable rematch between these two for the region title, Coach King said afterwards, “We are on one mission every year, to win the last game. It doesn’t ever change; our focus is always what can we do to win that last game.”

The Lady Wildcat dynamic duo, Boyd and Bryant, finished with 24 and 19 points respectively, while Feagin led the Lady Panthers with 17 and Alana Denson added 13.

Earlier, the boys’ game was just as exciting. The Lovejoy Wildcats (10-14) held the lead for most of the night, but Forest Park (5-18) came back late to take the lead. With Lovejoy down by one, they had one possession with eight seconds left for the win, but their drive to the basket deflected off the backboard and the Panthers escaped with the victory.

All of the teams will enter the final stretch of their season at the Region Tournament this week at Stephenson High School.

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