The more things change, the more they stay the same. The number four ranked Forrest Lady Rockets took to the highway Friday night for a showdown game versus the seventh ranked Middle Tennessee Christian School Lady Cougars and came home with a 60-52 win, making it four straight District 9-A regular season titles.
The Lady Rockets began the 2008-2009 season surrounded by uncertainty. A new first year coach in Jeremy Jean took over the helm from Robbie Reasonover and four core starters graduated. Teams in District 9-A thought they saw a crack they could slip through and end the supremacy that Forrest has had over the past three seasons.
The one team that was poised to try to take advantage was the Middle Tennessee Christian School Lady Cougars and they had their chance Friday night to steal the regular season district title with a win over the Lady Rockets, but it was not to be.
Forrest was the poised squad and MTCS looked tight, especially in the third quarter when the Forrest defense held the home squad to just four points.
Summer Waggoner has played in many of these high pressure games over the past four years and it showed versus MTCS as the senior hit big shot after big shot, finishing the contest with a game high 21 points.
Forrest made the early statement, leaping out to an 11-4 lead before the Lady Cougars found some footing to outscore Forrest 11-3 over the last three minutes of the first period to lead 15-14 after the first eight minutes of play.
Taylour Allen opened the second period with a bucket for Forrest and moments later Waggoner scored on a rebound and a put-back, giving FHS an 18-15 lead. An MTCS turnover led to a Megan Porter basket and a five-point lead.
Once again, the Lady Cougars fought back on two baskets by Sara Simms and one Katie Dunn bucket, giving MTCS a 21-20 lead.
The quarter would go back and forth with MTCS leading 30-28 and setting up for the last shot, but Forrest's Bequi Bussell stole the ball and raced the length of the court to beat the halftime buzzer, sending the two squads into the locker room, tied at 30.
"I told them at halftime that we were right where we wanted to be," said Jean in the postgame interview. "I told them to stay focused and we did. We came out more intense and I think we caught the off guard."
Forrest did come out more intense and it showed on the defensive side of the ball as the man to man defense began to tighten up, leading to a bevy of MTCS turnovers and easy buckets for the Lady Rockets. Waggoner was a one-women wrecking crew, scoring eleven straight points to zero for MTCS over the first five minutes, giving FHS a 41-30 lead.
The Lady Cougars were rattled and things got worse for them when Megan Porter was intentionally fouled on a break-away, sending her to the line where she drained both shots, building the lead to 43-30.
Devan Welker finally got MTCS on the board at the 1:17 mark, hitting one of two from the free throw line and the quarter ended with Forrest holding a 46-34 lead.
There was no scoring for the first minute and a half of the fourth period before Dunn scored, making it 46-36. Thea Ledbetter answered the Dunn basket with a three-pointer out of a set play as the Lady Rockets were not about to give in.
Forrest (20-3, 10-1) stayed poised, building the lead to fourteen points with just three minutes to play. MTCS (19-6, 8-3) began to foul the Lady Rockets in an attempt to come back, but some clutch free throw shooting by Bussell, Amanda Daughrity, and Allen sealed the deal, giving the Lady Rockets a 60-52 win and the regular season title.
The win also gave the Lady Rockets a first round bye in the district tournament which begins Feb. 16 at Eagleville.
"Winning the title is an awesome feeling," Waggoner said. "We knew this would be the one game that would mean everything and we were pumped to play it."
"Summer did an outstanding job tonight," Jean said. "Beth was having kind of an off night and Summer recognized that and she really picked us up."
Waggoner's 21 points was a season high for the recent Freed Hardeman signee. Bussell finished with 11 points, including one three-pointer, and 4-8 from the free throw line. Porter was next with 8 points, Thea Ledbetter had 7, Allen and Beth Hawn scored 6, and Daughrity had 1.
"It feels good to be part of this," said Jean. "I have not won a district title in ten years since I was in high school. I am happy, but we are not satisfied yet."