Lady Rockets hold off Huntland, advance to region final
It’s been six years since the Lady Rockets have played in a state sectional game and for five of those years Forrest senior Caitlyn Yost has become the school’s all-time leading scorer, but the Belmont signee just wanted one shot at a state tournament berth before moving on to the college ranks.
On Monday in the first of two Region 5A semifinal games at Eagleville, Yost got that chance as she put up 28 points in an exciting 66-55 win over reigning District 9A Tournament champion Huntland (27-6).
“This feels amazing, it’s honestly crazy,” Yost said. “I knew this team was special, we haven’t had anything like these players in years and it’s so awesome after I’ve been on the team for five years and have the work pay off.”
And it doesn’t get any easier for Forrest (25-7) as they take on longtime adversary Moore County (25-3) in the Region 5A title game tonight at 7 p.m. at Eagleville.
An emotional Forrest coach Jeremy Jean said after the game, “These kids have worked hard for this, the past couple of years we have fallen short, but tonight when they had a chance to fold they dug deep, believed in each other, got the job done and I am so proud of them.”
Forrest and the Raiderettes will both advance to a state sectional game on Saturday with the winner of tonight’s title game hosting and the loser making a road trip to the winner of the R5A championship bout between Summertown (23-9) and Perry County (17-14).
“That’s what we are shooting for is that home game,” Jean said. “We are a dangerous team right now and we are starting to peak, so we just have to come out with some energy and have some fun.”
Forrest has lost to Summertown twice this season, beat Perry County two times and has one loss to the Raiderettes, who they defeated 72-57 in the region final the same year (2010-2011) they last appeared in a region championship game and sectional contest.
“It’s always a battle and that’s good for us,” Jean said. “It doesn’t matter who we play Wednesday night because if we come out with the energy and focus we had tonight, we will win the ballgame.”
Yost and the Lady Rockets came out on fire in a high energy display versus Huntland, something they haven’t done twice versus the Lady Hornets and it cost them two losses.
“Coach Jean told us whoever has the most energy will win the game,” Yost said. “We knew we had to have more energy and we knew we worked for this too and deserved to win the game too and we had to have that in our heads.”
“Huntland is a really great team and they are all really good girls, but it was just a matter of who wanted it more at that moment and we definitely did.”
A Yost bucket opened up the game before Kara Smith nailed a 3-pointer, giving Huntland its only lead of the game at 3-2.
Grace Thrasher scored on a rebound and put-back and after a Huntland missed shot, Yost hit a jumper from the top of the key.
Class A Miss Basketball finalist Ali Golden, who went on to score a game-high 32 points in a remarkable display of skill and determination, hit one free throw before Forrest freshman Jaide Langley drilled a 3-pointer to make it a 9-4 contest.
Chapel Hill stayed firm and led 18-12 after the end of the first quarter and Katey Harmon gave Forrest a nine-point lead early in the second quarter on a wide open 3-pointer.
Forrest held at least a seven-point lead for much of the period until Yost drilled a long bomb to end the first half with the Lady Rockets in front by 10 points at 29-19.
A Caylee McLennan bucket in the low post opened up the scoring in the second half before the Lady Rockets kicked in the super charger, going on a 10-2 run that began on a Kyleah Hengesbach 3-pointer and ended on a Yost basket midway through the stanza that gave Forrest a 17-point lead at 40-23.
Golden and the Lady Hornets had to dig deep and they did, responding with 12-3 run, highlighted by a long range missile by Golden on the last possession of the period, making it 43-35 entering the final period of the season for one of the teams.
Golden’s fourth quarter performance has to go down as one of the best in a very, very long time as the Lady Hornet senior and Kings College signee singlehandedly kept her team alive.
“It is her senior year and she is a great, great player, a Miss Basketball finalist, she’s amazing and I love her and we are really great friends,” Yost said. “Her season was on the line and she was going to step up for her team and hit those shots, but we had to not let that scare us and we knew if she scored we had to go score.”
Golden scored 17-out-of-19 points in the period for Huntland, including four 3-pointers from another zip code and three made free throws after being fouled on another attempted trey.
On two occasions about midway through the fourth quarter, Golden hit 3-pointers to cut the Forrest lead to two points with the second coming at 4:35 mark to force a Lady Rocket timeout.
Forrest missed two shots after the stoppage and Huntland had the ball with a chance to tie the game, but they also missed and Yost followed with two free throws.
Another Huntland missed shot led to a Grace Thrasher layup over the top, making it 53-47.
Two more Huntland missed field goals led to four points by Yost to extend Forrest’s lead back to 10 points, but Golden wasn’t done just yet as she scored six straight to cut the Forrest lead to four points with one minute to go in the game.
“She (Golden) made some 27-28 footers that are tough to guard,” Jean said. “At that point in years past, we probably would have folded and quit, but these girls didn’t, they fought and believed in each other and on the offensive end we made enough plays to finish the game.”
Thrasher beat the Huntland defense again for an easy layup down low and from there, Langley and eighth-grader Laura Mealer made two foul shots apiece and Thrasher nailed one to seal the win.
“I don’t really think about, I just step up there and knock them down,” Langley said. “It’s just awesome, when I first moved over here they were so welcoming and made me feel like I’m at home, so I’m just happy to be with them.”
Asked about the Lady Rockets future, Langley smiled and said, “I think we are going to win state.”
Huntland 12 7 16 20-55
Forrest 18 11 14 23-66
Huntland (55): Ali Golden 32, Caylee McClennan 15, Tara Cates 5, Kara Smith 3
3-point goals (8): Golden 5, McClennan, Cates, Smith
Free throws (13-for-15): Golden 9-for-10, McLennan 4-for-5
Forrest (66): Caitlyn Yost 28, Grace Thrasher 11, Jaide Langley 9, Laura Mealer 6, Katey Harmon 5, Madison Curtis 4
3-point goals (5): Yost 2, Hengesbach, Langley, Harmon
Free throws (13-for-19): Yost 8-for-12, Langley 2-for-2, Mealer 2-for-2, Thrasher 1-for-2, Hengesbach 0-for-1
Halftime score: Forrest 29, Huntland 19