Class 5A girls final: Woodward Academy 62, Forest Park 59

Let's celebrate: Woodward Academy players celebrate their 62-59 victory over Forest Park Thursday in the Class 5A girls state championship game in Macon.
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Let's celebrate: Woodward Academy players celebrate their 62-59 victory over Forest Park Thursday in the Class 5A girls state championship game in Macon.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Woodward Academy completed a three-game season sweep of Region 3-rival Forest Park, holding on for a 62-59 victory Thursday in the Class 5A girls basketball championship game at the Macon Coliseum.

The victory gave No. 1 Woodward Academy (23-1) its fourth state championship, but first since 1999. Second-ranked Forest Park (24-6) won the Class 6A title last season before moving down in reclassification. Woodward Academy played in 4A last season.

This game wasn’t going to be anything like their last meeting, on Feb. 12, when Woodward Academy won 71-46 at home. That was apparent in the first five minutes, when Forest Park moved out to a 9-4 lead. Instead, this was going to be like their first meeting, a 55-51 Woodward Academy victory Jan. 22.

“The first time we played them, we came off of two weeks of quarantine, so it was a difficult game for us, but we pulled through,” Woodward Academy’s Kai Lanier said. “Then the second time we played them, they came off of two weeks of quarantine. So this was the game where we were both healthy, both giving our all for one final thing. We knew what to expect, so we just had to do what we do, give it our all, and we did.”

Forest Park led 23-21 at halftime, but the turning point came early in the second half when the Panthers’ Sania Feagin picked up her third and fourth fouls nine seconds apart and went to the bench with 5:28 to play in the third quarter and her team leading 25-23. Feagin recently was named a McDonald’s and Naismith All-American.

Jayda Brown made a jumper to extend the lead to 27-23, but the War Eagles outscored the Panthers 13-2 over the next two minutes and 22-14 overall in the quarter to take a 43-37 lead into the fourth.

Woodward Academy’s Sydney Bowles scored eight of her game-high 22 points and Lanier had five of her 14 in the decisive quarter.

“I can’t say enough words about Kai Lanier,” War Eagles coach Kim Lawrence said. “She has been our go-to defensive stopper. If we need a steal, she’s got it. If we need a hand on the basketball, she’s got it. She’s everywhere, and I can’t say enough about what she brings on both ends.”

Woodward Academy led by seven points with 4:27 remaining when Feagin fouled out, with 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Forest Park eventually cut the lead 60-59 on a 3-pointer by Ghylissa Knowles with 14.3 seconds left, but Bowles made both ends of a one-and-one four seconds later for the final margin.

“Like I tell our girls all the time, basketball’s a game of runs,” Lawrence said. “All we had to do was make sure we could withstand theirs. Our girls stayed composed. We had a couple of turnovers there at the end, but we fought hard like we’ve done all season.”

*

Woodward Academy - 10-11-22-19 - 62

Forest Park - 14-9-14-22 - 59

Woodward Academy (62)

Sydney Bowles 22, Kai Lanier 14, Sara Lewis 13, MacKenzie Moring 4, Savannah Simms 4, Kennedie Mosley 3, Zoe Scott 2, Anna Wylder.

Forest Park (59)

Jasmine Stevens 16; Ghylissa Knowles 13; Sania Feagin 10, Yasmine Allen 8, Olympia Chaney 8, Jayda Brown 4, Janiya Simmons.