The Forest Wildcats (17-10) won a wild matchup over the Springstead Eagles (21-4) in the waning seconds of Friday’s district championship. The third-seed Wildcats came back from down 10 in the fourth quarter to win the 2024 Girls Basketball District Tournaments – 6A District 4 championship at Greg O’Connell Court. The home team had dominated their schedule as they were enjoying a 17-game winning streak before being upended by Forest. Eagles Head Coach Zach Anspach commented on both squads after the game.
“I thought, overall, we played great. We let it slip away in the fourth quarter. It was a lot of our mistakes. We are a young team. I know we are a good team, but we have only got three seniors […]” Coach Anspach said. “[Forest] is a team that does not quit. They play hard. They have really good players. They are probably one of the first teams that has been able to match up with our athleticism and speed.”
For the first three quarters of Friday’s contest, the Eagles controlled the pace. They won each of the first three frames with help from a dominant performance by Senior Malanie Francis. She scored a game-high 22 points, but she made her presence known in more areas than just the scoreboard. Time-after-time, the 6’5” senior set up shop beneath the basket and rebounded errant shots by both squads. Missed shots turned into new opportunities for the home team. Her size also allowed the Eagles to make passes above defenders’ heads that only she could catch before converting them into points.
“That was only her twenty-fifth basketball game ever playing,” Coach Anspach said. “She played net ball in Jamaica. Unfortunately, she is a senior, but never played basketball. She has improved so much since the beginning. She has already got college offers. Santa Fe was here tonight for a couple of our players: Sam Suarez and Malanie. They are both most likely going to go to Santa Fe to play at the next level. Malanie is a monster. She is a big teddy bear […] She has got the biggest heart, hardest worker.”
A basketball game is four quarters, though, and the Wildcats locked in the final eight minutes of the matchup. Down 34-24, Senior Taleah Jones got the comeback started with a basket 15 seconds into the final frame. Sophomore Ja’Niyah McCoy (19 points) and Junior Jiyah Hamilton (16 points) took it from there. Over the next 6:18 of game time, McCoy scored 12 of her 19 points, two of which tied the game late. Francis would respond with another crucial basket to put the home team back up 42-40 with 1:19 left.
Then, with 1:09 remaining in regulation, Junior Neveah Perez-Ilana scored her only basket of the night. From the far corner, she lofted up a shot from downtown to give her team the slim 43-42 advantage. A game in which the Wildcats had struggled to knock down treys, her dagger three put the visitors up for the first time that night. It would also prove to be the last lead change of the evening as Hamilton put the finishing touches on the night with a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds left on the clock.
“That was probably one of the best environments in a girls’ basketball game in the history of Springstead,” Coach Anspach said. “That was awesome […] Credit to Forest, that was a huge shot late. That was a way, in this type of environment, to hit that type of shot.”
With their victory in the district final, the Wildcats will advance to the regional tournament. Coach Anspach feels his team will make it into the next round, but he admits that they will likely have to play on the road in the state playoffs. Though his team could have fed the post better late in the matchup, the coach noted that it was a learning experience, and he is proud of what they have accomplished.
“I am just proud of our girls.” Said Coach Anspach. “I love our team. We are not done. We are going to get an at-large bid. We have won 21 games. They are a great team. I told the girls this was going to be a fight, and that is what it was tonight […] I think this was the first district championship game, for girls’ basketball, that Springstead has played a home game.”