There were never many doubters this season that Clarkrange was the best Class A team in the state and they proved it Wednesday, beating Forrest 56-39 in the first round of the 2009 Farm Bureau Insurance TSSAA girls basketball championships, but Hall of Fame head coach Lamar Rogers and his talented group of Lady Buffaloes had to earn their way past the Lady Rockets.
The Lady Rockets were not only in the game, they led in the second quarter, only trailed by five points at the half, and by three points early in third period, and then by only six points at 31-25 with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
The Lady Buffaloes pulled away from there, stampeding off into a 25-6 game-sealing run to end the ballgame.
With Forrest eliminated, the path of the Lady Buffalo run to their eighth gold ball has been cleared wider than the plains of Montana.
Most observers felt the best two teams in the tournament played in this game and there is not another team left that can stay with Clarkrange either physically or mentally to stop them from finishing undefeated for the first time in their storied 33-year tradition.
Forrest head coach Jeremy Jean said in the postgame interview. "We had them where we wanted them. That is what we wanted to do was get it close for three quarters. I still think we played hard, that is all I can ask. Shots didn't fall that normally been falling here lately, some of those shots that we take that have been going in."
Jean added, "They're a really good team. That's the bottom line to it, they're a great team, and they didn't have any weaknesses. We had to play a great game. We played a good game; we played a great game for three quarters. In the fourth I think we got fatigued, frustration, physical game both ways, I think it wore down on us."
Forrest was fired up, coming up the ramp in the Murphy Center, maybe too fired up as they turned the ball over on their first two possessions, beginning the contest.
A miss and turnover by Clarkrange gave the ball back to the Lady Rockets and Thea Ledbetter fed Summer Waggoner in the post for a lay-in and a 2-0 lead.
Tori Lowe tied the game for the Lady Buffaloes with a lay-up before Ledbetter drove in for another score for the Lady Rockets. Waggoner then stole the ball from Clarkrange, out-letted to Ledbetter, who fed Hawn for a score and a 6-2 lead, forcing Rogers to call timeout at the 5:44 mark.
A three-pointer by Kelli Reed and a bucket in the paint by Molly Heady after two consecutive Forrest miscues gave Clarkrange a 7-6 lead.
Forrest would eventually come back to tie the game at 8 on a Taylour Allen driving lay-up with 3:20 left. Heady scored four straight for the Lady Buffaloes, opening up a four-point lead at 12-8.
Again, the Lady Rockets hung tough, tying the game at 14 with a long three-bomb from the corner by Waggoner with 1:25 remaining.
Tasha Phillips' lay-up with one minute left was the last bucket of the quarter, giving Clarkrange a 16-14 lead after the first eight minutes.
An Allen steal led to Megan Porter tying the game at 16, just 30 seconds into the second period and the Lady Rockets went ahead 19-18, two possessions later on a Porter jumper.
Phillips re-gained the lead for Clarkrange on a jump shot and Heady scored five consecutive points around the basket to end the half with Clarkrange leading 24-19.
Hawn scored first in the fourth quarter, cutting the margin to three-points. Clarkrange re-built the lead back up to eight at 31-23 on five straight by Reed and a steal and score by Heady.
Porter answered the call for Forest once again, scoring on a great move under the basket, kissing the ball off the glass and in.
Clarkrange began to surge, scoring four in a row to open up a ten-point 35-25 lead with 2:18 left in the period.
The deficit would re-main at seven, ending the third quarter and then the Lady Buffaloes reared up, beginning the fourth quarter on a huge 7-0 burst that the Lady Rockets would never recover from.
Clarkrange put triple nails in the Forrest coffin with three big bombs from downtown from Phillips, and two by Reed that sent the Clarkrange crowd into the celebration frenzy inside the Murphy Center, realizing with Forrest out of the way, the path had been cleared to the gold ball.
Forrest finished the season at 29-4 with bookend losses to Clarkrange. The next time the ball bounces on the hardwood for game time next season will be a Hall of Fame match-up in mid-November of 2009 in Chapel Hill between these same two teams.
Jean finished his rookie coaching season at Forrest with District 9-A Coach of the Year honors, a regular season title, and district and region tournament titles while guiding the Lady Rockets to their fourth consecutive state tournament appearance.
Jean was asked about the Clarkrange tradition and his school's own after the game and responded, "They have been here a long time, but give Forrest some years and we will be here a long time too. They are a great program, he is a great coach. They have been doing what they are doing now since they were born. It's been that way and it will keep being that way for a long time. I don't plan on going anywhere for a long time and we will be that way for a long time as long as they will have me there. We want to be Forrest, our own person, but similar to them and winning games."