By Score Atlanta
Fort Valley-- Third-seeded Stephenson’s incredible run to the GHSA Class AAAAA finals was completed Thursday as the Jaguars used a 16-5 scoring advantage in overtime to run past No. 1 seed Forest Park 55-44.
Stephenson (26-5) star Davion Wingate scored 23 of her game-high 29 points after halftime and overwhelmed Forest Park (28-5), which was eliminated by Southwest DeKalb in the semifinals the previous two years. Although Stephenson was the DeKalb-based school to end the Panthers’ season this year, it was the same story as Wingate is new to Stephenson this season after transferring from Southwest DeKalb.
"I've been to the semifinals four consecutive times,” said Wingate. “Now we have to get it done this time [in Macon]."
Stephenson trailed by two points with 1:30 left but used a combination of timely three-pointers, clutch foul shooting and plenty of Wingate to get the job done.
"I knew we could do it," explained Wingate. "We were in the same situation against Sequoyah last round and pulled out the victory (55-53).”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half as Forest Park was 1-of-6 shooting from outside the arc and Stephenson committed eight turnovers. After a back-and-forth second half, they went into overtime tied 39-39 before Stephenson took control of the game.
Wingate added six points in overtime, following a huge three-pointer by Miracle Gray to open the extra period and they iced the game with 10-of-11 free throw shooting in overtime.
It was a particularly tough loss for Forest Park (27-4), who had reached the state semifinals five of the past six seasons and had won 13 consecutive games entering the matchup. Forest Park's Kerry Watson led the Panthers with 17 points.
Stephenson got eight points from Chloe Culpeper and seven from Gray. Stephenson coach Dennis Watkins Jr. was pleased with the effort but also appreciated the poise his team displayed in overtime, when it hit 10 of 11 free throws to secure the victory.
"We were 11 of 13 (from the line) last game, and we kept preaching all season to execute free-throws," Watkins said.
Stephenson will play in the Class AAAAA Finals at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Macon Centreplex and will be looking for its third state title and first since 2008.
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