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Photos: See the action of Flowery Branch's state semifinal loss to Carver-Columbus in Fort Valley
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Flowery Branch's Caroline Wysocki shoots the ball with Carver's Kionna Gaines defending during the 4A state semifinals at Fort Valley State University on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Flowery Branch girls basketball team hung with top-ranked Carver-Columbus for one half in Saturday’s state semifinal bout between the teams, but the Lady Tigers got ahead big early in the second half, and the Lady Falcons never fully recovered. Carver’s dominating run to start the third quarter gave the Lady Tigers a double-digit lead, and Flowery Branch could never battle back into the game, falling 74-70 in its first loss against a Georgia team since the first game of the season. 

The defeat ends the Lady Falcons’ season one contest short of the state title game. 

“I like the way our kids fought,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said. “A lot of things didn’t go our way. I thought we battled through a lot of things, battled through some adversity and kept fighting. But Carver’s a great team. They had a couple stretches we couldn’t get past.” 

Saturday evening’s defeat was also the last game played by a group of seniors that finish off their high school careers with four Lanierland titles, three state semifinal appearances and 106 total wins. 

The Flowery Branch girls are the only Hall County basketball team — boys or girls — to have eclipsed 100 wins in the last four years. 

“I think their legacy is just what they’ve started at our school,” Newton-Gonzalez said of her seniors. “Winning four Lanierland championships isn’t easy. Getting to three Final Four’s isn’t easy. It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s going to take them a while to realize that because they wanted more.”

Early on in the game, it appeared things would stay close until the end. 

Wysocki got the Flowery Branch offense going in the first quarter, dishing assists to Ashlee Locke and Ashley Scott and scoring a layup of her own in a 7-2 run in the opening two minutes of the contest. 

But the Lady Falcons cooled off offensively from there, scoring just one point over the next four minutes of game time. Carver-Columbus post Olivia Cochran put in a couple of second-chance baskets following offensive rebounds. The Lady Tigers hit on four straight free throws while Flowery Branch struggled to score, watching its lead evaporate over the course of the opening frame. 

Carver led by two after the first eight minutes, and built on that lead early in the second period. 

Cochran scored on another put-back basket, and then blocked a shot on the defensive end that led to a Kionna Gaines make. Those buckets opened up a 10-4 Lady Tigers run that put Carver up by eight halfway through the second period. 

The Lady Falcons responded with a 9-1 run of their own, punctuated by a Scott 3-pointer that tied things up at 29-29 with two minutes to go until halftime. 

But Carver scored the final five points of the first half, and kept that momentum going through the start of the third quarter. 

The Lady Tigers began the second half on a 13-6 streak that was finished off by a 3-point play from Cochran three minutes into the frame. Locke picked up the foul on the play — her fourth of the game — and was forced to sit much of the second half with foul trouble. 

“(Cochran) is not one of the top five post players in the nation for a reason,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “Locke getting in foul trouble was hard for us.”

The Lady Falcons trailed by 12 after Carver’s big run, and spent the rest of the game playing catchup. 

Despite the double-digit deficit, Flowery Branch’s seniors did everything in their power to battle back in the game’s closing minutes. Scott hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter and another early in the fourth. Wysocki and Woodroffe combined to score 23 fourth-quarter points — including 14 in the last two minutes — but the Lady Tigers’ lead was too large to come back from, and the Lady Falcons ran out of time after putting together a 6-0 run in the final 30 seconds.

“We definitely didn’t lose this game because of our effort,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “We didn’t lose this game because of our heart. It just came down to a few stretches that we just didn’t have the composure there down the stretch.”

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