By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006
RICHMOND, March 11 -- Forest Park seniors Monica Wright and Ashleigh Braxton have accomplished so much during their high school careers that it is easy to forget they have every right to be as nervous on the court as the last kid on the bench, depending on the game situation.
So at the Siegel Center on Saturday afternoon, when a shaking Braxton headed to the foul line with her fourth-ranked Bruins down by one to No. 1 Edison with 4.6 seconds to play, it was her longtime buddy Wright who grabbed her face, told her she loved her and put her at ease before she attempted "the biggest shots of my high school career."
Braxton hit the two free throws, sandwiched around a timeout, for a 57-56 championship win, the school's second in three years and 21st consecutive victory.
"It just calms you down," said Braxton, a team-high 78 percent foul shooter who 34 seconds earlier had missed the front end of a one-and-one with her team ahead by one. "I just know that she's right there with me, and if it was vice versa, I would have been right there with her."
Braxton got to the line in the final seconds when she was fouled by junior guard Doreena Campbell on a drive to the hoop, a call with which Edison Coach Dianne Lewis disagreed.
"She was falling," Lewis said. "To make a call when a player is falling and obviously losing her balance and about to lose the ball is a very critical [call] that I don't think an official should [make]."
Worse yet for the Eagles, the foul was the fifth on Campbell (21 points), meaning the team's best shooter was not on the court for the final shot. Wright blocked Shawnee Lewis's off-balance three-pointer as time expired.
Forest Park (25-5) trailed by four with less than five minutes remaining. Wright and freshman guard Dani Jackson combined for the Bruins' next 14 points, on drives or foul shots. The final 2 minutes 38 seconds featured seven lead changes. Edison last led 56-55 on a Campbell drive with 21 seconds to play.
Jackson scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half and committed no turnovers during that time. For the game, she made 6 of 9 shots in complementing Wright (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Braxton (10 points).
"She was probably their X factor tonight," Lewis said.
Like Braxton, Jackson also needed a bit of a pep talk, this one at halftime, courtesy of Coach Chrissy Kelly. Kelly wanted the 5-foot-3 freshman to realize she was just as important as Wright and Braxton if the Bruins were to win the championship.
"What you don't get is that every single time these two seniors get the ball, they look to give it to you to run this team," Kelly recounted telling her. "Now run this team."
Jackson did such a good job, that it was her, not Wright or Braxton, who in the interview room afterward wore the net around her neck like a garland, sort of a passing of the torch from Division I recruits Wright (Virginia) and Braxton (Pittsburgh).
"It's a great feeling that the best two players in Virginia trust me to have the ball and [help] win a game for them," Jackson said. "It's overwhelming."
Edison (28-2), making its first state tournament appearance since 1978, got scoring from all five starters in the first half and led by as many as nine. The Eagles carried a 20-game winning streak into the final, and started no seniors.
"I couldn't say anything but I'm proud," Lewis said. "Nobody thought we'd go this far. We'll be back. I think [losing] will make them even more determined."
No. 4 Forest Park 57 No. 1 Edison 56 Key Run: Forest Park freshman guard Dani Jackson scored on consecutive three-point plays on drives to the basket -- one coast to coast after a defensive rebound -- within a 21-second span late in the game to give her team its first lead of the second half. For the Books: Forest Park won its second title in three years; the Bruins were state runners-up last season.