By RON DEUTER
CRYSTAL FALLS - There was a game to be played before officially awarding Forest Park a third straight district basketball title here Friday night.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photos
Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert makes a move on Watersmeet’s Michaela Burke (3) in Friday’s Class D district final at Eddie Chambers Gymnasium.
It was just over before most fans inside Eddie Chambers Gymnasium finished chewing their first bite of popcorn.
Lexi Gussert hammered a 3-pointer seconds after the opening tip and scored 10 of her game-high 21 points in the game's first six minutes, as Forest Park jumped to a 14-0 lead and plastered Watersmeet 61-19 in the Class D District 127 final.
"We were the favorite coming in, and we knew that," Forest Park coach Jeff Syrjanen said. "Watersmeet came out and played us hard, defended us hard. They were scrappy, but they just weren't able to put the ball in the hoop."
Forest Park (21-1) advances to Tuesday's regional tournament at Kingsford High School. The Lady Trojans open against Lake Linden-Hubbell, which defeated Baraga 46-41 in its district final Friday night.
Against Watersmeet, Syrjanen said the focus for his team was defense.
"We just challenged our kids to play hard defense," he said. "We figure we have to play hard defense to win. We know we can score points. We just don't know if we can hold other teams down.
"We've really been focussing on defense this whole week, and we've been very pleased with the progress."
The Lady Trojans forced the Nimrods into more than 20 turnovers, recording 15 steals. Gussert's seven swipes led the way.
Despite the lopsided score, Forest Park was not immune from a bit of sloppiness of its own. The Lady Trojans totaled 20 giveaways.
"At times a game like this gets a little ragged," Syrjanen said. "You don't take care of the ball. It certainly concerns me, but I keep in mind the type of game we're involved in.
"We tried to stay in our game plan as long as we could because we need to work on our game plan. I can't worry about what another team has. We need to worry about us down the road because we know we're going to see some heavy challenges in Kingsford."
Gussert, evolving into more of passer than shooter as the game wore on, also led the Lady Trojans with 13 rebounds and seven assists. She hit three of the team's seven triples.
Ronnie Jaeger added a couple of fourth-quarter bombs for six points. Kendra Campbell (7 points) and Kelsi Hendrickson (3 points) also hit from deep.
Jessica Bawyn added another seven points, as Forest Park saw 11 different players contribute buckets.
"Lexi has been carrying us in the scoring department," Syrjanen said. "We know when we get into the bigger games, we can't just rely on one shooter. We have to get other people scoring, and we had some people who stepped up a little bit tonight. That's what we're looking for because it makes us harder to stop."
Frannie Zelinski's six points and 10 rebounds led Watersmeet, which - to its credit - never waned in its effort or intensity.
"The big problem we had today was that the referee threw the ball up for the opening tip, and from that point on we were in for a world of hurt," Nimrods head coach Norm Ellenberger said. "Forest Park was so ready, so prepared. They knew what they had to do.
"We didn't get it ever put together where we could do anything. We played well enough to get here, but we didn't play well enough to get out of here."
Forest Park will play the second game Tuesday evening at Kingsford, with tip-off expected at 6:45 p.m. Superior Central, a 65-29 winner over Munising, and North Central, which edged Bark River-Harris 70-68, clash first at 5 p.m.
"We're going to see tougher, more physical teams in regionals," Gussert said. "We have to play our hearts out from now on out. Anything can happen.
"We never want to overlook anyone. We have goals, but in order to reach our goals, we have to play hard."
Watersmeet 5 4 2 8 - 19
Forest Park 18 16 10 17 - 61
WATERSMEET: Zelinski 6, Burke 5, Wenberg 5, Ryskey 3. FT: 1-6. F: 9.
FOREST PARK: Gussert 21, Campbell 7, Bawyn 7, Stankewicz 6, Jaeger 6, Robarge 3, Hendrickson 3, Graff 2, Nylund 2, Grandahl 2, Bradley 2. FT: 6-8. F: 8.
FG shooting - W: 8-46 (3-pt: 2-17); FP: 24-62 (3-pt: 7-17). 3-pt FGs - W: Burke, Wenberg; FP: Gussert (3), Jaeger (2), Campbell, Hendrickson. Rebounding - W: 18 (Zelinski 10); FP: 42 (Gussert 13).