Rocket comeback sinks Panthers

Friday, December 22, 2017
Forrest sophomore Ryley McClaran sets up the offense during the Rockets come from behind win over Lewis County.
Tribune photos by Mike Inglsbee

For the past three seasons the Rockets have suffered more than their share of disappointing, close last second losses.

This season those losses include a 12-point loss to 3A Mt. Juliet, a 10-point loss to 3A Lincoln County, and a one-point loss to McEwen and a four-point loss to Perry County.

But a 13-point win over Lincoln County seems to have snapped the Rockets out of its losing ways as Forrest came back from a large first half deficit to wrangle away a 61-50 win over Lewis County (5-4).

"The last two games, that seemed to be our M.O. a little bit," Forrest coach Randy Toombs said. "It's almost like we want to spot somebody a few points before we settle in. The deal is defense. We're not setting up our defense. It's taking longer than one quarter."

"But after one quarter the next thing you know, hey, we know what we're doing," Toombs continued. "And then we knock down a few shots, which we're very capable of doing. I'm very proud of them but I wish they would make it a little easier on me."

After the Panthers jumped out to a 21-8 lead following the first quarter, it looked to be the usual ending for the Rockets, but this Forrest team seems to thrive under the pressure of a comeback and outscored Lewis County in each of the final three periods, including an 18-5 advantage in the final quarter.

"(The difference) was that we cut down the turnovers of course," Toombs said. "The last two games it was 21 each time and tonight I think it was 11. So you cut those down and you cut down the opportunities you’re giving the other team and your taking away from yourself, you've got a shot."

"And we're rebounding better," Toombs added. "It's taken a quarter but now it's like, you're crashing the boards instead of watching. So we're just getting better and better and that's part of it. We've lost one of our best guards in Ty Hengesbach and when he gets better I'm really gonna be excited because he brings us to a different level."

The Rockets finished with four players in double figures led by Ryley McClaran with 18 points, Jacob Rich with 13 points, Spencer McCown with 12 points, and Sam Ford with 11 points.

Lewis County was led by Cameron Cothron with 13 points and Mickey Ortiz with 10 points.

Cothron scored nine of his 13 in the opening frame, Ortiz scored five points and three other Panthers scored at least a bucket to claim a 21-8 lead after one quarter.

The Rockets finally came alive in the second quarter with Rich knocking down a pair of triples and Martin Stewart and McCown scoring four points apiece to close the gap to 29-26 heading into break, putting the Rockets in prime position to make a run at the lead in the third quarter.

"We just needed a tweak to get better at what we're doing as the game progressed," Toombs said. "It was no rocket science, we just had to cut down the turnovers even more. We had seven in the first half."

"I said, we cut those down to five and we board a little better and we'll beat 'em," Toombs added. "Because we're gonna knock our shots down, I've got confidence that they'll make their shots. So it wasn't much adjustment at halftime, just a little tweak and get better at what we're doing."

The third quarter turned into the McClaran show, as the sharpshooting sophomore knocked down three from long-range to put the Rockets on the doorstep of the lead.

The Rockets finally completed the comeback with 6:58 remaining in the game on McClaran layup for a 45-45 tie, before six points from Ford and two more from McClaran put the Rockets up 53-47.

Spencer McCown takes the ball straight into the Lewis County defense during the second quarter.

McCown scored his sixth point of the quarter on a floater in the lane to give Forrest a 55-47 lead with 2:21 left in the game.

The Rockets put the finishing touches on the game with a 6-3 run to take two in a row for the first time since 2015-16.