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Flowery Branch, East Hall advance to Lanierland girls championship game
Sengkhammee's 3-point barrage lifts Lady Falcons to third straight title game appearance
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Flowery Branch point guard Lexie Sengkhammee (20) dribbles downcourt during the semifinal game of the 58th annual Lanierland Tournament between Flowery Branch and North Hall in Flowery Branch, on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

The Flowery Branch High girls basketball team is one win away from a three-peat at Lanierland.

Lexie Sengkhamme’s (21 points) seven 3-pointers broke the school’s single-game record (6), and two additional Lady Falcon starters followed with double-digit scoring performances as the tournament’s No. 1 seed and reigning Hall County champion soared past North Hall, 75-50, in Friday’s semifinal at Flowery Branch High.

The convincing victory puts Flowery Branch (9-3) through to the Hall County championship for the third-straight year and the chance to play for the title on its home court. The Lady Falcons will clash with No. 6 seed East Hall, which pulled away from West Hall in the earlier semifinal game. 

It confirms a rematch of the 2015 title game. 

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “Playing at home is something special for these kids, and we’ve talked about that all week. Having the opportunity to play the final at home is something that not a whole lot of people get to do.”

Senior Taniyah Worth, an Alabama pledge, racked up 16 points with four 3-pointers and four rebounds for the Lady Falcons behind her senior classmate Sengkhammee (six assists) despite sitting the entire second quarter. Fellow guard Caroline Wysocki added 14 points, four steals and five assists, followed by Ashley Woodroffe (four assists) with eight points.

Meanwhile, North Hall’s (6-5) approach to slow the pace of the Lady Falcons in the early going helped momentarily, only trailing the hosts 18-11 after the first period. But Flowery Branch quickly picked up steam in transition, scoring in the fast break while spreading the ball across court on offense to break the game wide open.

The Lady Falcons vaulted ahead on an 8-1 run to open the second period, and minutes later, Sengkhamme added to the fury. She knocked down three-straight from the perimeter, and the Lady Falcons’ lead ballooned to 35-15 with under a minute to spare in the half.

“We just knew that they were probably gonna slow the game down, and they did a good job of that at the beginning,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “We just tried to push it in transition, getting some easy buckets and get a little bit more movement on offense. We started slow, so I was proud of the way they made the adjustment.”

Flowery Branch went on to twice lead by 29 points in the final period.

North Hall’s offense was paced by Camilla Howell, who was the only starter to reach double figures with 15 points. Ansley Smallwood scored eight behind her senior classmate, followed by Grace Hollifield and Ansleigh Ferguson with six points apiece.

Flowery Branch defeated East Hall for their first county title under then first-year coach Newton-Gonzalez in the teams’ previous encounter on the championship stage. The Vikings seek their 18th Lanierland title overall, and first since 2011.

But Newton-Gonzalez knows this is a different season, and the Lady Vikings are a different team with Carly Winters and many of their vital role players.

“We’ve got to be prepared defensively to just man-up and play,” the coach said of her team’s plan to play East Hall. “We’ve got to play our style of basketball, but we know that they do a lot of good things as well.

“Any Lanierland final is gonna be a game. It’s gonna come down to the little things that win championships. We’ve got to be ready for that.”

EAST HALL GIRLS 57, WEST HALL 47: One way or another, West Hall’s Anna McKendree was going to get her points. East Hall coach Justin Wheeler knew that. 

Yet the Lady Vikings, despite fronting a defensive look they hadn’t used all season, found a way to minimize a late push orchestrated by McKendree in the final minutes and ensure a spot in the championship.

McKendree was corralled for much of the contest and held to a pair of field goals for the first three quarters, though still found a way to spark some momentum on the defensive side in the fourth quarter. The 5-foot-8 guard opened the period with a steal and layup, then added another takeaway on the following possession to ignite a 7-0 Spartans scoring run. McKendree (nine points, nine steals, five assists) continued to pounce, and her only converted three-point play of the game minutes later trimmed a 13-point deficit down to six with 2:31 left.

“She’s so good,” Wheeler said of McKendree. "I just tip my hat to her.”

“I just told (my players) to handle the ball, be strong with it. (West Hall) is going to reach in. You gotta fight through that.”

The Lady Vikings drilled five-straight from the charity stripe while hauling in some critical defensive rebounds to counter the Lady Spartans’ fourth-quarter rally.

Georgia State commit Carly Winters (15 points) drained a 3-pointer from behind the right wing for the game’s first points, just seconds into the contest, and East Hall went on to get strong production from outside the arc. The Lady Vikings knocked down 10 3-pointers, including three apiece from Winters and Jenny Lopez (15 points). Tessa Rider added to that total with two of her own as part of her 14-point showing for East Hall.

East Hall built a 34-18 halftime lead behind seven first-half treys.

Cady Shirley and Aashyah White were two other Spartans to finish nine points alongside McKendree for West Hall. 

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