After playing in the state semifinals last season, Forest Park's girls basketball team knew exactly what to expect from the tournament surroundings at Towson University's SECU Arena.
They didn't quite know what to expect from Forestville, one of the top teams in the state. While the Foresters won Baltimore City's Division III championship, Forestville played a national-caliber schedule and it showed right away.
The defending champion Knights forced 32 turnovers and shot 44.8 percent from the field as they rolled to an 81-32 victory Friday and advanced to face the winner of the late semifinal between 2014 champion Southern-Garrett and Pocomoke in the Class 1A state final Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Foresters (21-2) appeared loose before the game and hung in through the early minutes. Shania Gales fed Tiffani Rice for a layup to keep them within 6-5 midway through the first quarter. Then, the Knights (24-2) took off on a 23-1 run to build a 29-6 lead with 5:21 left in the second quarter.
The rout was on, but the Foresters were still loose and laughing at the postgame press conference.
"This was my first time [at the state tournament], I was happy. I was," said Gales, a sophomore point guard who led her team with 11 points, including two 3-pointers in the final 1:01.
Junior Mackelle Randolph said she was so upset after losing to Southern-Garrett in last year's state semifinal that she didn't want to talk at the postgame press conference. She and her teammates decided it would be different this year — win or lose.
"We made a pact that we weren't going to let this game define us and who we were," Randolph said. "Everybody doubted us. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so this game, we just walked away with a better understanding of what we have to do next year. We have nothing to be sad about. We're 21-2."
Foresters coach Jermaine Dunn knew better than his players how tough the Knights were likely to be. Their only losses have been to two of the best teams in the country — USA Today Super 25 No. 1 St. Mary's from Stockton, Calif., and No. 6 Riverdale Baptist.
"They're a great team," Dunn said. "I didn't think they had shooters, but they proved me wrong. They're inside. They're outside. They're physical. They've got speed, agility, so they're one of the top teams in Maryland and we had our hands full. I think we might have learned a lesson and I'm glad they got to see what a great team looks like, so we can prepare ourselves for next year, so we can become even better. But we will be back next year."
The Knights, who are averaging 95 points in the playoffs, scored 43 points off turnovers and 30 in the paint. Four players finished in double figures, led by Taleah Washington and Carrie Gross with 18 each.
The Foresters outrebounded the Knights, 45-42, but they scored only three second-chance points.
One of Dunn's goals for next season is to beef up his schedule. The Foresters won 21 straight games between their two losses, but few of those games were challenging. With all of his players returning next season, he wants a tougher schedule to prepare them for the state semifinals.
Forestville 81, Forest Park 32
FV—Washington 18, Matharu 9, Bean 3, Moore 12, Bagley 2, Vaughns 2, Gross 18, Rivera 17. Totals 30 10-19 81.
FP—Gales 11, Hawkins 5, Davenports 2, Rice 7, Randolph 7. Totals 11 6-10 32. Half: FV, 42-14.