DALE CITY — It took three years and a whole lot of “blood, guts and heartache” for the Forest Park girls basketball team to make it to the Cardinal District Tournament championship game.
That made being there a very big deal.
Playing for every girl who has ever worn a kelly green and royal blue Forest Park uniform, the Bruins summoned all of their talent, passion and potential Tuesday night at Gar-Field High School and transformed it into a performance that will undoubtedly be remembered as a defining moment in the program’s history.
Freshman Monica Wright referred to Forest Park’s convincing 53-33 victory over Woodbridge as a reward but her perspective is limited to this wondrous 22-2 campaign. Imagine what it must mean to the six juniors who have been together since the beginning.
“It’s been three years in the making,” center Brenan Richards said. “This has been a goal for a long time. We came out and played our best.”
The Bruins have rarely played better than they did against the defending champion Vikings. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead and were ahead by 11 just a few minutes into the opening quarter.
Woodbridge (20-6) never seriously challenged.
“We should have never been in that position,” Vikings coach George Washington said. “I don’t know what it was but we didn’t come out ready to play. We made too many mistakes and we’re a team that can’t afford to make mistakes.”
Washington didn’t want to make excuses, but it’s entirely possible that his team used up every ounce of its mental and physical energy during Monday’s remarkable comeback victory over Hylton. Down by 19 points in the second half and by 13 with one quarter to play, the Vikings rallied to beat the Bulldogs, 44-43.
The Bruins, who stuck around following their semifinal win over Gar-Field to witness Woodbridge’s inspired effort, had no interest in an encore performance last night.
“We were looking forward to playing Woodbridge again,” Richards said. “They’re a team that doesn’t give up and they have a lot of experience, but we knew they’d been down by 20 and come back to win and we were determined not to let that happen to us.”
The freshmen — Wright and point guard Ashleigh Braxton — made sure of that.
Wright had her 15th double-figure scoring outing of the season with a game-high 18 points and also led the Bruins with 13 rebounds and 4 steals. Braxton finished with 7 points and 9 rebounds as Forest Park earned the right to host the Commonwealth District runner-up on Saturday in the first round of the Northwest Region Tournament.
The Vikings travel to play either Stafford or Albemarle on Saturday.
“You can’t take anything away from them,” Washington said. “They wanted this.”
The Vikings wanted it, too. But they couldn’t match the Bruins’ energy level for 32 minutes. Washington went deep down his bench in an attempt to spark another comeback, but Woodbridge trailed 31-13 at halftime and neither Whitney Allen (6 points), April Henderson (7 points) nor Diana Martinez (7 points) could bring the Vikings back.
“We’ve been focused on coming out really strong, but our third quarters haven’t always been the way we’d like them to be,” Richards said. “We tend to let people back in the game and we need to put people away at this point in the season.”
As the Bruins huddled prior to the start of the third quarter, head coach Chrissy Kelly kneeled in front of her players and reminded them to remain focused.
“We get the first possession,” she said. “No turnovers. Do you hear me?”
The message came through loud and clear.
Forest Park received at least one point from 10 different players, including seven each from Richards and junior guard Amanda Bates. That was enough to absorb the Vikings’ comeback bid.
“We played all out,” Wright said. “Coach Kelly made sure we knew to play disciplined defense because when you play disciplined you don’t waste a lot of energy.
“In practice she makes us perfect every aspect of the game. We trust her coaching. She’s a very good coach,” Wright continued. “I’m so glad to be in this position. As a team, we worked so hard to get here and the hard work paid off.”