By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
FORSYTH — Forsyth claimed its first conference championship in 25 years by virtue of its 62-50 triumph over Blue Eye Thursday.
The Panthers (20-6) outscored their conference foes by an average margin of 13.4 points a game while breezing to a 7-0 record in league play.
“When we set out minds on things, we get it done,” said Forsyth guard Micaiah Rocha, who burned Blue Eye for a game-high 24 points. “I can’t think of any better group of guys to do this with. I haven’t had a blast like this since I’ve been playing basketball and what we’ve done has been incredible.”
“Going undefeated in our conference is not easy to do at all,” Panthers coach Josh Hart said. “Our conference is known for sending somebody to the Final Four every year, so you’ve got to show up and play every night.”
For Forsyth forward Anthony Stanford, he felt he finally gained redemption. A year ago, Stanford was defending Blue Eye’s Andrew Mitchell when Mitchell hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer.
“I’ve really looked forward to this one since he hit that game-winner in my face,” Stanford said “I didn’t forget that. It sounds kind of weird, but I’ve thought about that every single day since then. That’s always been in the back of my head.
“Coach told me tonight to get in his face and don’t let him score.”
Stanford held Mitchell to 10 points, or half his scoring average.
“Anthony’s defense tonight was phenomenal,” Hart said.
Hart hopes Rocha, Stanford and fellow senior James Kohn have earned All-SWCL votes. Kohn hit his final six field-goal attempts Thursday en route to 14 points.
“I’m pushing for Anthony for all-conference and Micaiah and James, too,” Hart said. “We have good coaches in our league and they understand what those three have done.”
Blue Eye coach Kyle Turner doesn’t need any convincing. The Bulldogs (18-5 overall and 4-3 in the SWCL) also lost 47-23 to Forsyth in November.
The Panthers jumped out to a 16-2 lead on Blue Eye in the first quarter Thursday. After falling behind by 20 points in the second half, the closest the Bulldogs could get to the lead was 12 points.
“Something about them seems to bring out the worst in us,” Turner said. “We missed some shots that were uncontested. But a lot of credit goes to their defense. They’re a tough matchup for us.”
Blue Eye was led by Brandon Fairchild. He missed his first six shots from the field, but netted 18 of his 20 points in the second half.
Rocha was 8-of-13 from the field and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line in his final game at home.
“It’s sad I won’t play here anymore,” Rocha said. “Our fan base has been incredible. They’ve been on my back and I’m glad we won the conference for them.”
Both Blue Eye and Forsyth will now prepare for Districts. The Bulldogs are the No. 1 seed and hosts for Class 2 District 11, while the Panthers are the No. 4 seed and at Fair Grove for Class 3 District 11.
“Last time we lost to Forsyth we bounced back pretty well,” Turner said. “We’re hoping for the same response. But we’ve got to come out from here on out with a lot more energy.”
“We had a little lull and it dropped our seed for Districts,” Hart said, alluding to a three-game losing streak two weeks ago. “Our guys have a little chip on their shoulders and are wanting to make a statement. Our District is loaded. We’ll want to do our best.”
Blue Eye 6 11 13 20 – 50
Forsyth 18 13 18 13 – 62
BLUE EYE (50) — Brandon Fairchild 20, Andrew Mitchell 10, Nathan Garnett 4, Ryan Reagan 14, Jacob Crouthamel 2.
FORSYTH (62) — Dawson Deroo 5, Cameron Davis 3, Micaiah Rocha 24, James Kohn 14, Anthony Stanford 11, Cale Wallace 2, Alex Powell 3.