MACON — After Gainesville High’s heartbreaking 59-56 loss to Westover in the state Class AAA basketball semifinals Friday night at the Macon Centreplex, the Red Elephant faithful who made the two-hour drive remained proud of their team.
"Well-coached and well-played game," said Gainesville fan Michael Callahan, who has daughters who attend the school. "Unfortunately it ended in the wrong direction."
Westover will play in tonight’s championship game, while Gainesville’s season ends.
A sizable contingent of red-clad Gainesville fans didn’t waver in their vocal support of the team, often rising to their feet as Gainesville regained the lead at several points during the game.
David McConnell, a Gainesville junior and vocal Red Elephant fan throughout the game, specifically credited the work of first-year coach Todd Cottrell.
"Coach Cottrell moving in really helped us a lot because he got us to play defense," he said.
His mother, Denise McConnell, a teacher at Enota Elementary who taught several members of the team, also made the trek to Macon.
"I think they’ve done a great job this year," she said. "A lot of those children I taught in elementary school and they’ve come a long way and they have a lot of character and class and they played their hearts out. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but they did a great job and we’re all proud of them."
Though proud of their team advancing to the semifinals, fans, students and cheerleaders were sad to see the season end one game short of a title shot.
"I’m really proud of the team. I mean you work so hard and we came so far," said Gainesville cheerleader Casey Martin, a sophomore. "Even though it’s sad, I’m really glad we made it this far."
David McConnell said he is optimistic the Red Elephants will make a return trip to Macon next year.
"It was really a heartbreaker because our guys worked so hard all season so to come this close and not to get the final state ring is pretty tough," he said. "The good thing is that we’ve got a lot of guys coming back we’re only graduating a few seniors, so hopefully we’ll have a better shot next year."
Like McConnell, junior Georgia Cobb is hopeful she’ll get to return next year, too.
"It was very hard to see them lose, but it was a really, really good game," Cobb said
Ben Mason credited the team’s ability to turn around its season after an 0-3 start.
"They’ve done very well this year ... they’ve worked hard and they’ve come a long way to come here," he said. "They play hard together ... they come together when they need to come together and pull it out when they need to and (Friday) night they just came up a little bit short."