DALE CITY — Jasmine Byrd has never hit a longer jumper in her life. Nor a bigger one.
Not in a varsity game, anyway.
Making amends for a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers that she feared might cost her team a chance at victory, the Hylton High School senior swished a 25-footer from the top of the key with 21.6 seconds remaining Thursday night to give the Bulldogs a thrilling 37-36 upset over sixth-ranked Forest Park.
Byrd’s final basket of the game capped a tremendous second-half comeback for Hylton and created a three-team, two-day playoff for the Cardinal District regular season championship.
“It was a designed play to get me the ball,” said Byrd, who scored a game-high 21 points, including 16 in the second half. “But [Forest Park’s defense] pushed me out there and I had to throw it. It felt good. I felt it going in.”
When Byrd connected, she pumped a fist in the air. The rest of her teammates celebrated, too, if only for a second or two. The Bulldogs still had to play defense, but their excitement was understandable.
After trailing by 16 points at halftime, Hylton outscored the host Bruins 18-2 over a nine-and-a-half minute stretch to tie the game at 30 and set up a dramatic finish.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Byrd said.
The Bruins didn’t want to lose, either. They had a chance to capture the first district championship in the program’s three-year history.
With a 28-12 advantage at the break, Forest Park certainly wasn’t entertaining thoughts of a playback or any of that other tiebreaker nonsense. Especially after Whitney French (11 points) came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in the Bruins’ 17-point second quarter.
“It’s a very mind-boggling thing,” Bruins coach Chrissy Kelly said. “We dominated the wrong half. Hylton came out and handed it to us.”
To be truthful, it was Byrd who handed it to the Bruins. After being held to a season-low four points in a 56-47 loss to Forest Park on Jan. 17, the UNC Greensboro-bound shooting guard connected on a trio of 3-pointers and six field goals in all.
She also went 6 of 8 from the foul line as Hylton improved to 14-4 overall and 4-2 in the Cardinal District.
Her performance was felt all the way in Lake Ridge, where the Woodbridge Vikings were thrilled to discover that they are still part of the championship equation following a 58-42 win over Gar-Field.
“I love J. Byrd,” Woodbridge guard April Henderson said.
Because Forest Park, Hylton and Woodbridge finished the regular season with identical 4-2 records, it will take two more days to determine which team will earn the top seed in the district tournament and receive a free pass into the Northwest Region Tournament.
The Bulldogs and Vikings play tonight at Forest Park with the winner taking on the Bruins Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.
Forest Park had an opportunity to prevent all that, but a two-point third quarter opened the door for Hylton to rally and the Bulldogs seized the opportunity.
“We have a weakness and our weakness is when somebody reciprocates our pressure we get scared to death,” Kelly said. “If we’d scored 12 points in the second half we’d have won the game.”
In fact, 10 points would have done the trick. Now, after opening the season with 18 consecutive victories, the Bruins (19-2) aren’t even sure if they’ll make it to regionals.
“It’s up to them,” Kelly said. “They have to decide what it is they want out of this season.”
The Bulldogs have apparently made that decision already.
The reigning regular-season district champions upset Woodbridge last Tuesday to put themselves back in the race and, last night, they held the Bruins to three second-half field goals.
Defense, however, was just part of the amazing comeback.
Shareka Purnell scored nine points while Tanisha Brown grabbed an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter and scored on a layup to give Hylton its first lead of the game. But the Bulldogs left the heroics to their Division 1 star.
And, Byrd came through.
After turning the ball over on two consecutive possessions in the final minute, she hit the biggest shot of her career.
“I messed up prior to that. I had two turnovers and all I was thinking was I had to do something to fix it,” Byrd said.
Forest Park guard Courtney Portell nearly came up with the game’s biggest play. She swiped the ball from Byrd and turned the pick into a go-ahead layup with 55 seconds remaining.
Then, a steal by freshman Monica Wright set up a Portell free throw that put the Bruins in front 36-34 with 35.8 seconds left.
Hylton called timeout to design a play for Byrd, but it was meant to be a jumper from 20 feet instead of 25. Either way, it went in.
“Down the stretch when we need to play, we play,” Byrd said. “All week, since we played Woodbridge, we’ve been pumped to show people we can do this.”