Playing without one of its best players, the Forest Hills girls basketball team opened the 2021 season Tuesday night with a 67-49 home loss to Salisbury.

The Yellow Jackets — playing without standout Hope Benson, who is still playing on the volleyball team — fell behind quickly, closing the first quarter down 20-12 and entering the locker room at halftime trailing by 17 points, 39-22. Forest Hills outscored the Hornets, 16-12, during the third quarter, but the deficit was too great to climb back from in the game’s final period.

Forest Hills was led Tuesday night by junior Shay Simpson and sophomore Jamyah Blakeney, who both scored 14 points. Four other Yellow Jackets combined for the remaining 21 points for Forest Hills. Benson, a 6-foot senior, was the 2018-19 RRC girls basketball player of the year. Last season she averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 steals as a junior.

The Yellow Jackets are looking for their third straight Rocky River Conference title this season under head coach Marc Richardson. Last season, Benson and Blakeney — the 2019-20 RRC Player of the Year — helped lead Forest Hills to an 18-8 overall record before falling to Ashe County in the second round of the 2A state playoffs.

While Forest Hills came up short Tuesday night, the matchup with Salisbury should help the team prepare for their conference slate and, eventually, another run in the state playoffs. Last season, Salisbury’s girls team went 29-2 overall and lost in the 2A semifinals to Newton-Conover. This is Forest Hills’ fourth season under Richardson. Over his first three seasons, Richardson led the Yellow Jackets to a 27-3 conference record (45-33 overall). Forest Hills is back in action Thursday night on the road against RRC opponent North Stanly.