Forest Park’s girls basketball team had no trouble defeating Southwestern for its fourth straight Baltimore City Division II championship Saturday afternoon, but coach Jermaine Dunn said this title was the most rewarding.
“People had no expectations for us this year. We had seven seniors who graduated,” he said. “I had two sophomores and a freshman starting for me, so this is very rewarding, all of the hard work. This is probably my proudest moment out of all four of them.”
Led by veterans Shania Gales and Nakiyah Johnson, the Foresters used a feisty defense, strong rebounding and a solid inside-outside game to beat the Sabres, 56-11, at Morgan State’s Hill Field House.
“It just feels good,” said Gales, a senior guard, “because a lot of people don’t get that experience. People are saying, ‘You’re playing a bad team,’ but they don’t realize we work hard to get where we’re at.”
Southwestern’s Kaylin Medley scored the first basket of the game, but the Foresters broke it open with a 25-0 run that started with 3:44 left in the first quarter. After Johnson, who finished with 18 points, converted a turnover with 2:54 left in the second quarter, the Foresters led, 30-4.
The Foresters (14-4) had a big advantage in rebounds and scored four baskets off Sabres turnovers during the run. Senior forward Johnson and freshman forward Neah Henry, who had 13 points, dominated the boards on both ends of the court.
In the second quarter, the Foresters scored the first 16 points, including 10 from Johnson, before the Sabres (9-8) finally got a free throw from Khandi Harrison with 2:23 left in the half.
“They have more experience than us,” said Sabres coach Stephen Perry, who started just one senior. “His guards are aggressive. I like his guards. I’m trying to get my guards to play aggressive like that and understand the game a little bit better, but they’re young. They’re going to get their chance.”
Dunn’s team also beat the Sabres last season in the Division II final, although his team played then as the Northwestern Wildcats.
Before the 2016-17 school year, Forest Park moved into the Northwestern High School building as construction began on a new Forest Park building. Last year, the two programs merged their athletic teams and played as the Wildcats. This year, Northwestern closed with Forest Park remaining housed in Northwestern’s old building and the teams are back in Foresters uniforms.
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All along, however, the core of the team was Forest Park players, including Gales, who scored 10 points and had seven assists Saturday.
Gales and sophomore Josias Mickens made a tough defensive duo in the backcourt, forcing turnovers throughout the game. The Sabres didn’t score in the second half and the final 10 minutes were played with a running clock after the Foresters took a 35-point lead.
“This was a team effort,” Gales said. “My team, we came together and you’ve got to feel good about that.”