By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Two words have never brought so much relief to one man and a gym full of supporters as the words Forest Park guard Kayla Potts uttered midway through the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s 57-36 blowout of Drew.
“A cramp,” she said while limping off the floor following a fall while attempting to avoid a Titan defender on her way to the basket. Potts, a dynamic junior guard and a major catalyst for the Panthers, ranked No. 9 in Class AAAAA, missed nearly all of last season after suffering a severe knee injury.
Along with Potts, fellow junior forward Tiffany Wilson missed last season with a knee injury of her own. Had both Potts, who just returned to the line up earlier this month, and Wilson been available for Panther head coach Steve Cole last season when team went 23-7 and advanced to the state quarterfinals, Forest Park might have won it all.
“When she went down I said, oh man here we go again,” said a relieved Cole, who has had his fill of knee injuries to key players over the last few seasons. Still, the Panthers have gone a combined 73-20 with a trip to the finals, the semi finals and the quarterfinals. This year Forest Park (14-6) is still undefeated (11-0) in Region 4 – Division A, and with Potts back running the point the Panthers a primed for another deep run in the state playoffs.
“Kayla being back takes the load off of everybody else,” Cole said. “She allows everyone to go back to their normal roles.”
The improved version of the Panthers was on display against Drew (9-7, 7-4), which went toe-to-toe with Forest Park two weeks ago before falling 44-35. Tuesday’s rematch looked like it would be another close contest, as the Panthers held a slim 16-13 lead midway through the second quarter after a basket by Potts, who led all scorers with 24 points.
But Forest Park turned up the defensive pressure over the last four minutes of the period, forcing four turnovers during a 14-2 run to close out the half with a 30-15 lead. The Panthers continued the spurt by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter. Drew closed the gap to 37-22 late in the period after a couple of buckets by freshman guard Jada Hargrove, who led the Titans with 13 points.
But that’s as close as Drew would get as Potts scored nine points in the fourth quarter, the same total she scored in the first to help the Panthers get out to an early lead.
“[With Potts back] we’re working on our new team chemistry,” Cole said. “We want to work on winning Clayton County first by beating all the teams in Clayton County. Then we want to win our region and then move on to the state playoffs. We want to keep getting better.”
Forest Park (57) – Kayla Potts 24, Shakira Thompson 9, Tiffany Wilson 8, Kanisha Tharpe 6, I’Mani Richards 5, Breasia McElrath 3, Tequilla Richardson 2
Drew (36) – Jada Hargrove 13, Toxiana Wilson 9, Alexis Henderson 6, Lakyha Sims 6, Danielle Sims 2