MCDONOUGH - With every inexperienced team come the inevitable peaks and valleys.
The Eastside High girls basketball team rode that swinging pendulum of momentum back and forth throughout Wednesday's 55-39 loss to Forest Park at the Charger Hooptacular at Eagle's Landing Christian Academy:
Downswing: A 13-0 first-half run by Forest Park during which the Lady Eagles did not score for five minutes and 45 seconds.
Upswing: A 16-5 third-quarter surge that saw Eastside rally to within one point after trailing by 12.
Downswing: A fourth-quarter dry spell that saw Forest Park pull away with a 16-2 run.
"The thing about is we played extremely hard," Eastside head coach Jason Grooms said. "You can't take that for granted after the 17-point third quarter. A couple of quarters like that, and we're in good shape."
The Lady Eagles (2-8) are in the midst of playing six games in nine days - the next contest is 10 a.m. today against Stockbridge in the consolation round of the Hooptactular at ELCA. It's a daunting task for any high school team.
But for a squad that started two freshmen and two sophomores Wednesday, it's a stretch Grooms hopes will pay off once the Lady Eagles dive into the heart of their Region 8-AAAA schedule.
"It gives us a chance to see some different girls," Grooms said. "It gets some different players into the game."
Regardless of who was on the floor Wednesday, senior guard Ashley Burtts shined. She led all scorers with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor, and teamed with freshmen guards Jade Cook and Raven Williams to fuel the Eastside's third-quarter push.
Down 27-15 early in the third, the Lady Eagles raised the pressure on defense and forced the tempo.
It worked. Cook, Williams and Burtts combined to score 16 points in a six-minute span. A Williams jumper from the left side cut Forest Park's lead to 32-31 with 46 seconds left in the period.
"We executed real well in the third quarter," Burtts said. "We would've won the game if we'd started the fourth quarter the same way."
But unfortunately for the Lady Eagles, they didn't. The Lady Panthers (4-8) seized control in the early moments of the final quarter, scoring the first 10 points of the quarter. Eastside missed its first 10 shots in the quarter, while the Lady Panthers pounded the ball inside and converted 10 of its 16 shots in the final eight minutes.
"I thought they outrebounded us at the offensive end a few times," Grooms said. "Some of it is size ...some of it is execution."
And a big part of it is Eastside's lack of depth inside due to injuries. Another post player, junior Ashley Crews, left the game with a potential knee injury in the second half.
"Since we're down on our post players right now, we have to go with our guards," Burtts said. "We have to execute, go to the basket and knock down our free throws."
Eastside started quickly. Burtts and Cook - who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds - combined for all 11 of Eastside's first-quarter points. A Cook steal and layup gave the Lady Eagles an 11-8 lead with 1:50 to go in the first.
Then came the first big run by the Lady Panthers. While Eastside missed its next eight shots, Forest Park scored 13 unanswered points, a pair of Charlesia Norman free throws ending the run and making it 21-11 Forest Park with 4:20 to go in the first half.
For a team gaining experience, the learning process continues.
"I always tell the girls to keep their heads up," Burtts said. "A lot of our underclassmen have stepped up a lot. I think, throughout the season, our underclassmen will continue to keep getting better."