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Lanierland girls: Flowery Branch, North Hall confirm championship clash
Top-seeded Lady Falcons seek fourth-straight title
Flowery Branch's Ashley Woodroffe lays the ball up with Chestatee's Nicole Sedwick, right, and Emma Easterwood blocking on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 at West Hall High School during the Lanierland semifinals. - photo by Austin Steele

The historic 2019 class for Flowery Branch High’s girls basketball program is now one win away from another benchmark for its legacy.

The reigning Hall County champion Lady Falcons sprinted ahead early against No. 5 seed Chestatee, and convincingly pulled away for a 67-38 win Friday night to secure a spot in Lanierland championship for the fifth-consecutive year.

Courtney Newton-Gonzalez’s squad now looks to bring home its first-ever four-peat for the girls program, and become just the third girls team in Lanierland’s 59-year history to accomplish that feat. The Lady Falcons (11-3) will play No. 3 seed North Hall for the championship at 6 p.m. tonight in Oakwood.

“To be in the position to play for another Lanierland championship, we’re happy about it,” the fourth-year Lady Falcons coach said. “We have a tough, tough team ahead of us in North Hall … and very well-coached and playing well right now. So we know the Lanierland championship is going to be a battle, and a fun game.”

Flowery Branch used a domineering combination of swarming pressure and unselfish basketball on offense to maintain a double-digit lead for all four quarters. The Lady Falcons spread the floor with a combined 17 assists for the contest, three players scoring in double figures and five more chipping in for buckets. Ashlee Locke was fed early and often underneath, racking up a game-high 19 points — 16 in the first half — to pad her stat line of four blocks, five boards and one assist. Senior guard Ashley Woodroffe added 13 points, followed by Ashley Scott with 10 points for the Lady Falcons. 

Also for Flowery Branch, senior guard Caroline Wysocki had four points with six assists and a pair of steals.

“We kind of like to spread the floor, get the ball moving, just find the open player,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “And I was proud of how we did that. I thought Caroline found a lot of open kids early, and that really opened up a lot of things for the kids. It makes it a lot easier when kids are hitting open shots, and tonight it helped us.”

Meanwhile, Christina Garcia was the only Chestatee starter to reach double figures with 13 points. Maggie McNair chipped in seven points for the Lady War Eagles (8-8)

The outcome was never in doubt for Flowery Branch. 

Ashley Scott drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner for the game’s first basket seconds from the opening tip, and the Lady Falcons exploded out the gates for a 13-2 lead early. The tournament’s top seed knocked down four more treys — one more from Scott and two from freshman Shaina Kriews (six points) — while assisting three Ashlee Locke baskets from underneath to build a 24-7 lead by the end of the first period.

“That’s never our gameplan — to shoot a bunch of 3s. But they were, and our kids were knocking them down,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “I think they needed that confidence wise, just hitting some outside shots and opening the lane for Ashlee to get some easy buckets.

The Lady Falcons led 41-17 at the break and went on to lead by as much as 36 in the final period, when freshman Emilee Scott (six points) made a 3 for a 65-29 score.

NORTH HALL GIRLS 83, GAINESVILLE 72 (OT): When asked what made the difference in her North Hall girls basketball team pulling off their second Lanierland victory Friday night, two words spoken by longtime coach Kristi House stuck out postgame.

The first was the ‘belief’ that never wavered down the stretch, even after Gainesville High’s Tia Shelton knocked down a contested 3-pointer with eight seconds left in regulation to force overtime. The second word was one that revealed itself often in a thrilling semifinal bout against a tenacious opponent: Fearless. 

North Hall (11-3) outscored Gainesville 17-6 in the final four minutes of extra time to pull away for a 83-72 victory inside West Hall High’s gymnasium, propelling the No. 3 seeded Lady Trojans to their first Lanierland final since 2013. 

With the score tied 66-all at the end of regulation, the Lady Trojans quickly offset a scoring layup by Gainesville’s Tija Blackwell by getting back-to-back baskets underneath by Grace Hollifield and post player Ansleigh Ferguson at the start of overtime. Minutes later, a crowd-erupting 3-pointer from Macy Clark near the left corner stretched North Hall’s lead to seven at the 1:15 mark. The Lady Trojans went on to ice the game from the free throw line, closing out the period with a 8-of-10 clip. 

“Down the stretch, when (Gainesville) started making plays, some of our kids grew up a lot tonight, started making plays that we see them sometimes do in practice,” House said. “A lot of people grew up today for us. It was awesome.” 

Despite being limited in their shot selection for much of the first half, the scoring duo of Shelton and Blackwell finished with 29 and 27 points, respectively to pace the seventh-seeded Lady Red Elephants (7-5). The pair combined for 36 points in the second half, and 19 of Gainesville's 26 fourth-quarter points to erase a 12-point deficit. 

There were six lead changes inside the final four minutes of regulation before Shelton’s clutch loft in front of two defenders from behind the right wing in the closing seconds.

Four players scored in double figures for North Hall. One day after banking the game-winning layup at the buzzer against Lakeview Academy, Ferguson was ruthless inside the paint for the Lady Trojans, finishing with 21 points and 15 rebounds for her second double-double performance of the tourney. Grace Hollifield chipped in 21 points, followed by point guard Maci Gillespie with 11 points and a team-high 10 assists. 

Clark was another to produce for the Lady Trojans with 10 points and two 3-pointers. Ansley Smallwood tallied nine points, including her only 3-pointer that elicited pandemonium from the crowd as her long-range loft initially gave North Hall a 64-63 lead with 50 seconds left in regulation. 

“Some of the shots our guards hit tonight were just fearless,” House said. “To have them come out, might miss one or two, and then just step back up in those moments at the end, it was just amazing. I love it.”

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