The last time the Pine Forest and Pensacola High girls basketball teams met, the result was a classic.
In double overtime, Chelsea Gibson -- now a senior forward at PHS -- made a steal and drove the court for a layup with 21 seconds left to seal a 71-68 victory that gave the Tigers their second consecutive district championship. PHS went on to make its fifth straight appearance in the state final four, and sixth in the past seven seasons.
At 6 tonight at PHS, the Eagles and Tigers meet again for the first time this season. And the game promises to be just as dramatic.
Both teams are undefeated in District 1-6A. Both teams have handily defeated all their area opponents -- PHS by an average margin of 45.3 points; the Eagles by an average of 44.2.
"The girls are very excited for this game," said Pine Forest coach Chris Godwin, whose squad is 8-1, 7-0 in District 1-6A. "They're excited because of what happened last year. And with having a lot of players back this year, they're just really looking forward to it."
Area fans also are looking forward to the game. During one of the regular-season meetings between the two teams last year at Pine Forest, Ann Caro Suarez Gymnasium filled to capacity, and hundreds of fans had to be turned away.
The rivalry between these two teams -- easily the best two programs in the Pensacola area -- always draws a tremendous and raucous crowd.
The stakes are high, too.
The winner not only gets an edge in the District 1-6A race, but also gets a much-needed confidence boost as both teams look to make a run at the Class 6A state championship.
"We start off our season wanting to go to state, and we end our season looking to get to state," said Jayla King, a senior forward, who recently signed with the University of South Florida. "If we beat PHS, then we know we can beat anybody."
For the players, the crowd will heighten the experience and make a win that much more meaningful.
"It makes you want to put on a good show," said Jasmine McCants, a 5-9 power forward. "It makes you want to play that much harder."
An advantage the Eagles have in the matchup is experience. All five of last year's starting lineup are back this season. The Tigers have just two returning starters this season -- Gibson and Kayla Thompson.
"We basically have been around each other since we were little," said King, who scored a team-high 25 points in the Eagles' last game against the Tigers. "So, we know each other really well and we hang out everyday. On the court, we know what everyone can do."
An advantage for PHS (7-0, 7-0 District 1-6A) will be its height. The Tigers' starting center -- D'Arcy Draper, a transfer from Vandebilt Catholic in New Orleans, which made the Louisiana state semifinals last year -- is 6-foot-2. Thompson is 6-foot-1.
King, at 5-10, is the tallest player on the Eagles' roster.
"Our defense is going to be key," Godwin said. "I try to stress to the girls all the time about how defense wins games. And, you know, we were really close last year, especially in the district championship game. But I think they learned from that."
With a victory, the road toward that goal will get a little easier for the Eagles. The next time they play PHS -- on Jan. 18 -- it will be at home.
"I think it would boost our confidence, especially winning over at someone else's place," Godwin said. "I think it's always good to win at home, but when you can beat someone like PHS on the road, that's always a good thing."