Unshaken F. Park creates title stir Despite 2-15 mark, team stayed confident

March 16, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

For a team with a 2-15 record during the regular season, the Forest Park boys basketball team sure had a lot of confidence entering the playoffs.

That confidence led to an improbable 6-0 postseason run that did not end until the Foresters had won their first state championship on Saturday, defeating Pocomoke, 45-43, in the Class 1A final at Cole Field House. Forest Park (8-15) had beaten Brunswick, 61-55, in the semifinals on Friday.

It was the first championship of any kind for Forest Park since 1987-88, when Lynn Badham (now at Dunbar) led the Foresters to a 15-2 record and the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference title.

"We came in here loose, looking to have some fun," said forward Jamie Higginbotham, who at 6 feet 2, is among the Foresters' tallest players. "But we also were looking to win games. Coach [Greg Warren] said we had a job to do, and we ended up doing that."

Said junior Dolphus Dixon: "If you judge us by our record, then what we did here in two nights, it's an upset. But we really don't consider it that way, because we knew we could come in here and do this."

The Foresters' record certainly was deceiving.

Playing a competitive schedule, they lost by respectable margins to 2A state champ Dunbar (12 points), city champ Douglass (five), 3A runner-up City (three) and perennial power Lake Clifton (two).

"There was some frustration at times this year, but you just keep emphasizing the positive things that they do, tell them it'll hopefully pay off," said Warren, 26, who was hired as a swimming coach four years ago and coached the junior varsity basketball team for two years before taking over this year's varsity.

Warren, a former member of the Herkimer, N.Y., junior college national championship team, "had a belief that when we got to the playoffs, we'd meet teams that we could beat," said athletic director Obie Barnes. "And he was right."

vTC Higginbotham's effort against Pocomoke of Worcester County was the Foresters' entire season in microcosm. The sophomore, in his estimation, "had been playing terrible" until scoring the buzzer-beating turnaround jumper off a pass from junior guard Donnell Dobbins.

"People judged us by our record and our height, but you have to look at our hearts," said Chris Hurst, 6-3, Forest Park's tallest player, who fouled out late against Pocomoke.

Higginbotham scored only four points against Pocomoke, but led all rebounders with 11 (seven in the first half) against Pocomoke's Mirko Humbert, 6-7, and Tim Corbin, 6-5, who had six rebounds each.

With contributions from seniors Shawn Waller (14 points, nine rebounds) and Hurst (10 points, five rebounds) and even the 5-9 Dobbins (seven rebounds), the Foresters had a 43-38 advantage in rebounding that helped to overcome their 3-for-13 free-throw shooting.

"We came in with a lot of confidence for whatever situations we got into," Waller said. "Coach just told us to do what we've always done and to play the way we have all year, and that's what we did."

Warren, Waller said, often recalled regular-season "blowouts, where no one was in the stands to watch us, and no one expected us to do anything."

But after an eight-point loss to 4A East Region runner-up Patterson in the regular-season finale, the Foresters got on a roll.

They routed their first four playoff opponents, Elkton (83-40), Sparrows Point (70-42), Hereford (65-39) and Bohemia Manor (83-36) en route to the 1A East Region crown.

But the Foresters' semifinal win over Frederick County's Brunswick was perhaps even more impressive.

Brunswick had twice beaten 2A state semifinalist Middletown of Frederick County, which led several times -- including late into the third period -- during its loss to eventual champ Dunbar.

"As hard as they'd play, we just tried to go that much harder," said Dixon, who is one of three starters expected to return for Forest Park next year.

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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