The Forrest Lady Rockets, ranked number 3 in the first Associated Press Class A basketball poll of the year defended their home court with a rough and tumble 44-40 win Tuesday night in Chapel Hill versus a determined Middle Tennessee Christian School that came into the contest at the number 10 spot in the AP poll.
The Forrest victory (13-2, 5-0) was the twelfth win in a row over the Lady Cougars (12-5, 3-2), dating back to the first meeting between the two schools in 2003.
Asked about the team's ranking after the game, Forrest head coach Jeremy Jean said, "Sometimes the polls can be messed-up, but right now I think that is where we are. Do these girls believe they can be number one? Yes they do. We just have to keep getting better every game."
"This was a great win for us tonight. We got a little separation and won on our home court. We never want to lose at home, that is where all your fans come see you play," Jean added.
The game plan going into the contest for FHS was to play their tough style of man-to-man defense, denying the ball at all angles and make the Lady Cougars work for every point they get.
"We stuck to our defense and matched up on who we needed to match-up on," said Bussell after the game. "Beth (Hawn), Thea (Ledbetter), Taylour (Allen) and Summer (Waggoner) all stepped in to take important charges in the game. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do."
Thea Ledbetter, along with Bequi Bussell shut down former Lady Rocket guard Alex Martin, allowing her to get just two shots off from the field (both misses). Martin would end up with just 2 points from the foul line.
"We don't believe we are number three and we are going to finish strong at the state. There are many days of practice and hard work ahead before we get there," said Bussell.
The hard work started early in the contest for Forrest as MTCS scored the game's first four points before Allen came in off the bench to pay immediate defensive dividends, stealing the ball from Martin and feeding Waggoner streaking to the hoop for a layup.
Julie Howard scored for MTCS to make it 6-2 before back-to-back baskets by Hawn tied the game 6.
Katie Dunn, who led all scorers with 19 points in the game, scored the final basket of the first period to give MTCS an 8-6 lead.
MTCS doubled the score at 12-6 on two baskets to begin the second period before Bussell electrified her squad with a deep three-bomb to make it 12-9.
After a bucket by the Lady Cougars, Hawn went deep to make it 14-12. The score remained that way until the 2:44 mark of the period when Waggoner shook loose underneath to tie the game at 14.
Moments later, after Martin missed the front end of a one and one, Hawn went deep again to give the Lady Rockets a 17-16 lead.
They would never trail again in the contest.
Forrest held MTCS scoreless the rest of the half and led 19-16 when Megan Porter hit both ends of a bonus one and one late, giving the home squad a 19-16 lead, going into the locker room.
Both squads missed on their initial possessions of the third quarter before Porter lit another fire, firing in a three-bomb from deep to put Forrest up 22-16.
Katie Mullions hit two foul shots to make it 22-18, but Bussell would not have any of it, draining a three on the next possession.
Two Dunn three-pointers combined with another Mullins bucket cut the lead to two points at 25-23 and MTCS had the ball with a chance to tie when Hawn stepped in front of Sara Sims to draw a charge.
Hawn went to the bench with 1:06 remaining in the third period with her fourth foul when she was whistled for an offensive foul.
Waggoner and Dunn traded baskets before Forrest freshman Adrean Jordan pulled up for a buzzer-beating jumper off of a set play to end the third quarter with FHS leading 31-25.
With Hawn on the bench in foul trouble, MTCS began to push the ball deep to Dunn, who hit two free throws and stepped out for two three-pointers, cutting the Forrest lead to 37-33 with just under four minutes left in the game.
Hawn came back into the contest and got a hard earned third follow into the basket to spread the margin back six at 39-33.
Porter scored a couple of possessions later for a 41-33 lead and Sims hit two foul shots for MTCS to make it 41-35.
After a Forrest miss, Mullins hit on a traditional three-point play, cutting the lead to three at 41-38 with 49.4 seconds left to play.
Two misses from the line by Forrest gave the ball back to the Lady Cougars, but the pressure defense by the Lady Rockets caused a huge turnover that led to two foul shots by Bussell to make it 43-38 with 33.1 left.
Forrest pressured the ball once again, forcing the backbreaking turnover of the game by MTCS to seal the victory on one of two from the line by Bussell.
The 44-40 win sends the Lady Rockets forward to a Friday night homecoming match-up versus the 1-9 F. C. Boyd Christian School Lady Broncos at 6:00pm.
Hawn led the Lady Rockets with 14 points, Waggoner scored 10, Bussell and Porter had 9 points each, and Jordan had the one bucket for 2 points.