Hylton senior guard Jasmine Byrd was tired of sitting around the house waiting to play basketball during a week of school cancellations and game postponements. She made sure her Friday evening would be busy by making a 25-foot three-pointer with 21 seconds left last night to lift her team to a 37-36 road win over No. 13 Forest Park, which forged a three-way tie atop the four-team Cardinal District.
By splitting games against each other, Hylton, Woodbridge (a 58-42 winner over Gar-Field last night) and Forest Park all finish with 4-2 district records. As determined by draw, Hylton and Woodbridge will play at 6 p.m. tonight at Forest Park in a tiebreaker game, with the winner hosting Forest Park at 4 p.m. Saturday to determine the regular season champion. The champ earns a berth in the Northwestern Region tournament.
In last night's second game, Hylton's boys defeated Forest Park, 55-43, to force a one-game playoff for the boys' regular season title and a region berth. The Bulldogs will face Woodbridge tonight at Forest Park following the girls' game.
The Hylton girls (15-4), who in their last outing nine days ago upset No. 19 Woodbridge, in the first half of last night's game seemed an unlikely participant in any playback scenario. Coach Melvin Smith said afterward it appeared as if his players were still "sleigh riding."
Forest Park junior reserve guard Whitney French scored 11 points to pace her team to a 28-12 halftime lead. But the Bruins (19-2) managed just two points in the third quarter. Byrd, meantime, erupted for 16 of her 21 points after halftime, none more important than her game-winner.
"I had messed up prior to that and had two turnovers, and all I was thinking was that I had to do something to fix it," Byrd said in reference to a basket by Forest Park sophomore Courtney Portell off a steal that gave the Bruins a one-point lead with 55 seconds left, and a steal by freshman Monica Wright that resulted in Portell making 1 of 2 free throws for a 36-34 lead. "They drew up a play for me and I just let it go."
"Those two have bailed us out many a time," said Smith of North Carolina Greensboro signee Byrd and junior point guard Shareka Purnell, who chipped in with nine points last night. "We told [Byrd]: 'Do not hesitate, wherever you are, take the shot.' "
In the second half, Forest Park committed nine turnovers and missed 18 of 21 field goal attempts. With a win, the third-year program would have claimed its first district title.
"We have a weakness, and our weakness is if someone reciprocates our pressure, we get scared to death," said Forest Park Coach Chrissy Kelly, whose team starts two freshman and no seniors. "Because of shooting ourselves out of the ballgame, we couldn't recuperate defensively, because everything they were putting up we couldn't answer."