Pope sticks pitchfork in Red Devils
The entire Forrest Rockets' squad was not happy with the way they played in their last loss to MTCS in the District 9-A final, but none more upset then Mark Pope, who quickly made amends for the entire team as he poured in a career high 33 points versus Jo Byrns Saturday night in Chapel Hill in a 72-51 Region 5-A Tournament opening round win.
"I didn't want to shoot like that again," said Pope. "I have been in the gym the last couple of days working hard on my shot."
Pope rained down six three-pointers in the contest that eliminated the Red Devils (13-12) and sent Forrest (24-8) north to East Robertson for a round two match-up versus District 10-A champion McEwen (26-1).
Forrest head coach Wes Hobbs said after the game, "Mark would be the first one to say that he wanted his shot to be there for the district final, but boy it sure was there for him tonight."
The Rockets never trailed versus Jo Byrns, jumping out to a 10-3 lead midway through the first period on a Lucas Pruitt jumper in the lane.
Red Devil guard Will Brown and FHS forward Zach Horvath traded buckets late, giving the Rockets a 12-5 margin after the first eight minutes.
In period number two, Pope went off, drilling three long bombs with the first two coming on back-to-back possessions that opened up a fifteen-point lead for Forrest at 24-9 with 5:20 remaining in the first half.
Jo Byrns would dig in and cut the Rockets' lead to nine points late on a basket by Brandon Adkins, but a Zach Ray bucket in the paint, followed by a single Pope free throw as time wound down gave the hometown Rockets a 33-21 lead at the half.
"I think we played to our strengths tonight," said Hobbs. "At the half, we talked about how important the third quarter was. If you let teams hang around, they can get confidence, so we wanted to come out and be smart on the offensive end and keep up the defensive intensity, get some stops, and keep them off the boards."
Ryan O'Neil scored for Jo Byrns to kick off the second half before Pope got red-hot, scoring seven straight points, beginning with a lay-up, followed by two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound, and ending with a deep three-ball that made it a 40-23 ballgame.
Moments later, Colby Anglin scored on a drive down the lane for Forrest, and after one free throw by Brandon Mutter broke the Rocket scoring string, Pope stuck the pitchfork in the Red Devils with a laser trey from the corner to open up a 45-24 lead.
Pope would score again before the quarter ended and Anglin took his turn from long range with a successful trey for Forrest, who took a 50-29 lead in to the fourth period.
Both squads scored twenty-two points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets did not relent in the three touchdown win, setting up the second round battle on the road versus McEwen.
The Warriors have been a thorn in the Rockets' side the last two years, putting an end to Forrest's season each time by a combined score of 115-82.
"I don't think motivational will be an issue," Hobbs said about playing McEwen. "I know they played McEwen the last couple of years and they really want to bounce back and get that off our back a little bit. We talked to the seniors about this is what they started off to do as freshman and make a run your senior year, you always think about that and you always want that to happen."
Hobbs added, "We have been fortunate to get where we are and if we win Tuesday night, we are guaranteed at least two more games. They don't want it to end yet and as long as they keep playing hard like they have done, I think it will be well for us on Tuesday."
The last time Forrest made the region final and appeared in a sub-state game was in 1997.