It wasn’t the usual formula for the Flowery Branch girls basketball team, but the results were all that mattered.
Unlike every other game in the team’s now 20-game winning streak, the Lady Falcons played from behind for much of Tuesday night’s state quarterfinal game against Henry County. But thanks to lockdown fourth quarter defense and a couple of timely free throws, Flowery Branch managed to reclaim the lead and take down the Lady Warhawks, 54-50.
The win puts the Lady Falcons in state semifinals for the third consecutive year. They will take on Carver-Columbus/Heritage-Catoosa winner in the semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m. at Fort Valley State.
“Any time you get a program to where they’ve made three final fours, it’s huge,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “That was kind of our goal.”
The Lady Falcons also closed out an undefeated home season with the win, doing so in front of a packed crowd. After the game, an emotional Newton-Gonzalez grabbed the loudspeaker mic to address the mass of fans.
“You showed up, and we’re proud,” she said.
It was a feel-good story that very nearly wasn’t.
The teams went back and forth for the entire opening quarter, with neither group managing to score more than four consecutive points before the other came back with an answer. Flowery Branch guard Ashley Woodroffe’s late layup was the difference in the first frame as the Lady Falcons took a one-point lead into the second period.
But as the game wore on, Henry County started to find more of a rhythm. The Lady Warhawks started the second quarter on a 7-3 run to jump out to a three-point advantage. Senior Ashley Scott’s 3-pointer off the assist from fellow senior Caroline Wysocki tied things up, but a three-point play from Henry County’s Briana Juniel stole the lead immediately back for the Lady Warhawks.
Flowery Branch managed just two points over the final three and a half minutes of the half, and Henry County carried a two-point advantage into the halftime break.
“We knew this was going to be a battle,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “Henry County is a great team. A really, really great team.”
After Woodroffe put together a three-point play early in the second half, the Lady Warhawks went on an 8-0 run that gave them a seven-point lead at the midpoint of the third quarter. Trailing by seven with only 12 minutes standing between them and elimination, Woodroffe and the Lady Falcons knew it was time to make their move.
“We had a mindset of ‘This is not going to be our last game,’” Woodroffe said. “’We’re going to give it all we have and leave it all on the floor.’”
In the closing minutes of the third frame, Woodroffe dished an assist to Ashlee Locke in the post, then grabbed a steal that led to another Locke basket on the other end of the court. Woodroffe picked up a loose ball following a Locke block on the ensuing Henry County possession, and drove the length of the court to knock in a layup that tied the game with 30 seconds to go until the final quarter.
With the momentum back in hand, Flowery Branch took back control of the game.
Scott hit a dagger 3-pointer early in the period that took the lead back permanently for the Lady Falcons as they completely locked Henry County down defensively. The Lady Warhawks made just one basket from the field in the entire frame, managing only four points at the free throw line before Juniel ended the drought with little more than two minutes remaining in the contest.
Meanwhile, Flowery Branch’s trio of seniors in Woodroffe, Wysocki and Scott combined to go 7 of 8 from the free throw line, with Woodroffe making four straight in the last 30 seconds to seal the win.
“It was going to come down to just the will and just the focus there at the end,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “I thought our kid stepped up there at the end, focusing and staying the course of the game.”