When the Class 5A playoff brackets were unveiled last week, it seemed the second-seeded Flowery Branch High girls basketball team drew an opponent that wasn’t the typical No. 3 seed.
Rome, the Lady Falcons’ first-round foe, boasted 23 regular-season wins and a top-10 ranking by most publications. The Lady Wolves resided in the tough Region 7-5A alongside fellow 20-game winners Villa Rica and Carrollton, giving them all the makings of a team whose playoff seeding was a poor indicator of its potential.
The same, though, could be said for Flowery Branch.
The Lady Falcons ripped off a huge first-quarter run and led by double digits for most of the night en route to a 78-63 victory Friday, Feb. 16, in Flowery Branch. Five Flowery Branch players recorded double-digit points as the team passed its early playoff test with flying colors.
“We knew (Rome) was a great team from a great region,” Lady Falcons coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “ … It’s playoff basketball. We know everybody is stepping up their games, so we have to step up our game, too.”
Flowery Branch (23-6), which reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history a year ago, moves on to face No. 1 seed Lithia Springs either Feb. 21 or Feb. 22 in Lithia Springs.
The Lady Lions (18-9) defeated fourth-seeded Chamblee, 49-48, in the first round of the state tournament.
Senior guard Lexie Sengkhammee paced the Lady Falcons on Friday with 17 points and hit all five of her 3-pointer attempts. Classmate and Alabama signee Taniyah Worth narrowly missed a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds while adding five steals and four assists.
Flowery Branch junior guards Ashley Scott (15 points), Caroline Wysocki (14) and Ashley Woodroffe (12) rounded out the balanced scoring attack.
“We were all playing together and were really on the same page this game,” Sengkhammee said. “Each of us know what our task is and know how to execute it, and we did that. It helped us get the win tonight.”
The Lady Falcons started slowly, however, falling behind 9-4 in the opening minutes. Given the playoff stage, Newton-Gonzalez said her team had to work through some early nerves.
Once Flowery Branch settled down, the Lady Wolves (23-6) struggled to keep up.
Wysocki — who also notched seven assists, five rebounds and four steals — had a hand in seven straight points, completing a three-point play, assisting on a layup and knocking down a jumper to give the Lady Falcons a lead they never gave up.
She sparked a 24-3 run for Flowery Branch, which blocked six shots in the first half and led 45-28 at halftime.
“We started out a little rushed,” said Sengkhammee, who hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter. “We hadn’t calmed down over those first few minutes. It came down to us playing for each and motivating each other to push through.”
But Rome, which relied heavily on senior forward Taya Gibson (28 points), used five Lady Falcons turnovers to pull within nine midway through the third quarter.
After a timeout, Flowery Branch made sure the Lady Wolves would get no closer. The Lady Falcons stretched their lead to 16 points by the end of the third quarter, a surge punctuated by a four-point play from Scott.
“That was a big play for us,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “To knock down that 3-pointer and then the free throw, that gave us a lot of momentum there.”
It didn’t go to waste. Sengkhammee canned two more treys, Woodroffe provided another and Flowery Branch pushed its lead to 21 points three times in the final period. Rome senior guard Re’tavia Floyd (21 points) hit a string of 3-pointers to lessen the gap, but outside of her and Gibson, the Lady Wolves mustered little offensive consistency.
Newton-Gonzalez said her team lacked defensive intensity at times throughout the game, yet the Lady Falcons still walked away with a relatively easy win against a tough opponent.
Flowery Branch isn’t the average No. 2 seed, after all.