Forrest's luck runs out
The Forrest Lady Rockets (21-12) outplayed fifth-ranked Houston County Monday night in the first of two Region 5-A Tournament semifinals at East Robertson High School, but in the end, it was the luck of the Lady Irish that prevailed 36-32.
"Houston County is a good team, that's why they are 30-1, but we played well tonight, shots just didn't fall that usually do, but we played hard and the girls played a great game," said Forrest head coach Jeremy Jean.
It was also revenge for the Erin squad, who were on the other side of the sinking elimination feeling when Forrest beat the Lady Irish on their home floor last year in the first round of the region tournament.
Houston County (30-1) has now won nine in a row with their only loss coming at the hands of Ezell Harding on Jan. 23.
The top two seeds will meet on Wednesday night for the region title when the Lady Irish take on Community (24-4), who eliminated Nashville Christian 50-44 in Monday night's second game.
Both participants also earned a state sectional bid on Saturday.
The Lady Rockets played inspired defense from the outset of the contest, holding Houston County to an opening bucket by Madison Steppe while taking a 6-2 lead on two Caitlin Yost buckets, plus a rebound and put-back by Hailey Collins.
The margin could have been wider if not for four missed free throws by Forrest and Houston County took advantage of their good fortune, coming back to tie the game at six apiece when Steppe and Abby Drew scored on back-to-back possessions that ended the first quarter.
The lead exchanged hands four times and Forrest trailed 13-12 with 2:19 to play in the second quarter when the Lady Rockets made a move, beginning with Hannah Evans converting both ends of a one-and-one situation at the free-throw line.
After a Houston County missed shot, Kyleah Hengesbach matched Evans' feat from the charity stripe, giving Forrest a 16-13 lead and they added two more points moments later when Sierra Waggoner knocked down a rebound.
Anna Beal scored on an off-balance jumper for Houston County as time wound down in the first half with Forrest in front 18-15.
Drew drew first blood in the third quarter, seesawing the lead back to Houston County, but Forrest stood firm in the period, which was well-played by both squads.
With the game tied at 20, Yost scored on a scramble play under the basket, but Steppe scored at the other end, re-knotting the contest at 22.
Yost drained a 3-pointer two possessions later, only to see Beal score the final basket of the period, making it a one-point game, entering the final eight minutes for one of the two combatants.
Houston County scored four straight to open the stanza, giving the Lady Irish their biggest lead of the game at just three points.
Collins and Beal exchanged baskets before Yost made it a one-point game with a steal and score.
After a Houston County timeout with 1:08 remaining in the contest, Hengesbach swiped the rock and went to the free-throw line where she made one of two.
Beal came up with a fortunate bounce after a missed free throw by the Lady Irish and proceeded to drain two crucial free throws, making it a 34-30 ballgame.
Hengesbach scored quickly on a breakaway layup and it looked like luck was on the Lady Rockets' side when they got the ball back on a Lady Irish miscue with 25 seconds left.
It was not to be, as the potential game-tying shot came within a whisker of falling and moments later a tight call went to the Lady Irish, who finished off the game and Forrest's season.
"They shouldn't hang their heads," said Jean. "We outplayed them, they just had some shots fall and we didn't. It's gonna sting for a while because we had a chance, we win this game and we could have come up here on Wednesday and played for fun."
Yost finished with 15 points, leading all scorers in the contest, while Evans and Hengesbach netted five points apiece,
Collins ended up with four, Waggoner had two, and Savannah Brothers added a single marker.
"Let me say something about Kirston Holder," said Jean. "She has done a great job of accepting her role to help this team get better and she did all year and I will miss her."
Beal scored 13 points to lead the Irish offense, while Steppe had a dozen, Drew had a half dozen, Madison Middleton scored four and Bradee Wambles had three points.