There’s a new champion in town


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WOODBRIDGE — With the ball in her hands and a chance to give her team the lead for the first time Saturday afternoon, Amanda Bates changed her mind twice.

The decision she finally made turned out to be a good one.

Bates passed on the notion of shooting a 3-pointer with just under two minutes remaining and chose to dribble closer to the foul line. When nobody from Woodbridge’s defense stepped in to stop her, Forest Park’s junior guard kept right on going until she was close enough to toss up a running jumper.

It swished through the net to complete an emotionally-charged, second-half comeback that propelled the Bruins to a 51-45 victory and the program’s first Cardinal District regular-season championship.

“At first I was going to take the three, but I hadn’t been shooting all that well so I decided to take a step in,” Bates explained. “Nobody came up on me and I just kept going.”

By the time Vikings center Ariene Jenkins got in Bates’ way, it was too late. The ball was already in the air. After that, the Bruins were unstoppable.

“They made some big plays when they needed to make big plays,” Woodbridge coach George Washington said. “That was the difference.”

Two nights after they allowed a 16-point lead to disappear in a numbing loss to Hylton, the Bruins rallied from 10-points down in the second half to defeat Woodbridge in a tiebreaker game that had vast meaning beyond its obvious historic connotations.

Behind 11 points from guard DeCarol Davis, nine points each from Bates and freshman Monica Wright and a tremendous second-half defensive effort, the Bruins added a few more milestones to their trailblazing campaign that already includes a top-10 ranking and a school record 20 wins.

“I’m just speechless,” sophomore guard Courtney Portell said, after 6th-ranked Forest Park clinched an automatic berth to the Northwest Region Tournament and the No. 1 seed for the Cardinal District Tournament, which begins Monday night at Gar-Field.

The Bruins could have accomplished all of that on Thursday with a win over Hylton, but having to do it on the road against a rival that’s spent much of the season also ranked among the Group AAA top-10 made the accomplishment even more worthwhile.

“The game the other night, that feeling was horrible,” Portell said. “You couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t eat without thinking about it. We came out today and got our pride back.”

It took a seemingly impossible rally and some clutch free throw shooting in the final minutes for the Bruins (20-2) to feel the joy again.

The Vikings (19-5) took a comfortable 30-22 lead into the locker room at halftime and built on it with a Diana Martinez layup in the opening minute of the third quarter.

Martinez finished the night with a game-high 17 points, Whitney Allen had 13 points and 10 rebounds and April Henderson added nine points, but Woodbridge couldn’t build on a 19-point second period. With Bates leading the way on defense, Forest Park held the Vikings to 15 points in the final 16 minutes.

“We never look at the scoreboard and think we’re out of it,” Portell said.

The Bruins didn’t even need a full quarter to get back in the game. Wright scored six points and Whitney French drilled a 3-pointer to spark a 13-6 third-period run and the comeback was on.

After Bates put Forest Park ahead with her final basket of the night, Portell and Davis combined for eight foul shots in the final 93 seconds.

“Our motto has always been that free throws win games,” Portell said.

On Saturday, it was free throws and defense.

Of the Vikings’ 14 first-half field goals, at least half were the result of lob passes inside to Allen, Martinez or Ariene Jenkins. Inspired by a halftime challenge from head coach Chrissy Kelly, the Bruins took that away following intermission and also made sure that guard Elizabeth Murphy was never wide open.

Murphy had 11 points in a win over Gar-Field on Thursday and nine more in Woodbridge’s victory over Hylton on Friday. But Forest Park shut her out and made history in the process.

“It’s nice to know we get to keep playing. We just want to keep playing,” Bates said. “We believe in our coach so much that whatever she says we go out and do it. It was just a matter of going out and playing as a team.”

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