The Forrest Rockets continued their post-season surge Saturday night in Chapel Hill, eliminating the visiting White House-Heritage Patriots 56-43 in the quarterfinal round of the Region 5-A Tournament.
The Rockets controlled the game from start to finish, scoring first and then never letting go of the lead in the ballgame.
The region tournament game win sets up the Rockets for a semifinal match-up with McEwen (22-5) on Tuesday night at East Robertson and a victory in that contest gets Forrest (13-17) to a region final and an automatic berth in a sub-state game.
Forrest's last appearance in a sub-state game was earned in 1997 when they beat a Moore County team in the region championship.
Forrest girls head coach Jeremy Jean was a sophomore on that Raiders team.
The Rockets lost to the eventual Class A state runners-up Columbia Academy in Chapel Hill 76-64 in sub-state.
The District 9-A champion Rockets have peaked at just the right time of year hit on all cylinders early on versus the Patriots, jumping out to a 7-0 lead.
After a Pat missed shot, Corey Bishop opened up the scoring, hitting one of two from the line.
Another missed field goal attempt by WHH set up the red-hot Mark Pope for a three-pointer that he buried from the corner.
D9-A Tournament MVP Kyle Gugger converted a three-play in the paint after another Pat's clanker.
A jumper by Devin Harper finally put White House-Heritage on the board with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
The Patriots would fall behind by seven again at 12-5 after Pope's second trey of the quarter, but WHH would stay in the ballgame with a 4-1 mini-run at the end of the period and trailed 13-9.
The Patriots cut the lead to 15-13 late, but Forrest held firm on a three-bomb by Marshall Hunter with 59.0 seconds left in the half.
Harper scored for WHH, but was matched by Gugger for the final bucket of the first half and the Rockets took a 20-15 lead into the intermission.
After misses by both teams to begin the second half, Forrest got hot, draining three treys on three straight possessions.
The back-to-back-to-back three-pointers by Pope, Parker Holton, and Bishop offset a single bucket by Harper and swung the momentum squarely to the home team, who led 29-17.
Harper had the hot hand for WHH and the Patriots keep going to him in the fourth quarter.
Harper drained a three to begin the quarter and would single-handedly lead the Patriots back into the ballgame, outscoring Forrest 9-6 to cut the Rocket lead to 43-37 midway through the final eight minutes.
Harper had a chance to get into the Rocket lead even further, but missed the front end of a one and one two times before Forrest scored again on a driving circus shot to the hoop by Gentry, re-firing the Rocket engine.
Dane Leonard made it 48-37, reopening the double digit Forrest lead with 3 minutes left in the game.
With the score 48-41 in favor of the Rockets, Gugger was fouled and went to the free throw for a one and one.
Gugger spun the first shot off the rim and Holton came diving to the floor for the ball, making a sliding save to Gentry.
Bishop was fouled and canned both ends of a one and one with 1:46 left in the contest, putting the Rockets up 50-41.
Pope scored with under a minute to go, making it a 54-43 ballgame and then the Rockets put the exclamation point on the win when Gugger raced to track down a long pass, saving the ball to Gentry, who dished to Pope for a easy lay-in that fired up the Forrest crowd until the game ended moments later.
Gugger would lead the Rockets with 20 points in the contest and said afterward, "This felt good. Everybody thought we weren't going to win it and we came in showed who was boss and we won it."
Asked what the key to victory was for the Rockets, Gugger said, "Heart, that's all it came down to."
Pope ended up with 16 points (3 treys), Bishop had 8, Gentry netted 4, Holton and Hunter scored 3 points each, and Leonard finished with 2 points.
Cut-Lines (Photos by Anthony S. Puca)
1. Forrest freshman Mark Pope (20) buries the first of three consecutive Rockets three-pointers at the outset of third period. Pope ended up with 16 points as Forrest went coast-to-coast in a 56-43 win over White House-Heritage in the opening round of the Region 5-A Tournament in Chapel Hill Saturday night.
2. Freshman Marshall Hunter's (32) three-bomb staved off a second quarter rally by the Patriots, who would fall 56-43 to the Rockets in the semifinal round of the Region 5-A Tournament in Chapel Hill.