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High school basketball: Flowery Branch girls savor getting first-round home playoff game in Class 4A
Flowery Branch's Bella Brick (10) dribbles between a pair of defenders from North Oconee during the Region 8-4A tournament semifinals Thursday in Flowery Branch. Photo by Bill Murphy

It’s been a week since the Cherokee Bluff boys basketball team last played a game, but the Bears are doing whatever they can to stay locked in. 

Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood said he gave his players two days off following their victory over North Hall in the Region 7-3A third-place game last Tuesday, but ever since the brief break, the Bears have been in the gym as much as possible. 

“We’ve been getting after them pretty good, making sure we get a lot of conditioning in so that we don’t lose energy for the next game,” Wood said. “And then a lot of shooting and just a lot of execution at this point. We’ve been working for this all year, so it’s not like we’re having to create an entirely new game plan.”

The Bears will have to make about a three-hour bus ride to take on Sonoraville High School in the first round Wednesday. 

The Phoenix are the No. 2 seed out of Region 6-3A and the school’s more relaxed spectator policy will provide an environment for the game that Wood said his team is not currently accustomed to. 

“I believe probably the entire town of Sonoraville will be out there, so it’ll be a task,” he said. “We’ve only played in front of a big crowd three times due to COVID. So trying to get our players used to controlling their emotions, when we finally do see a crowd, our kids are so excited and jacked up, we’re trying to work on being able to control our emotions in those moments.”

Apart from the change in environment, Wood said the team is also focused on slowing down senior Sonoraville point guard Orry Darnell who “makes the team go.”

“It’s going to be a challenge going up there,” Wood said.

The Bears are one of five area teams to qualify for their classifications state tournament. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the other playoff basketball taking place this week. 

NORTH HALL BOYS VS LAFAYETTE: The Trojans qualified for the Class 3A state playoffs following the first year with new head coach Miles Kendall at the helm. North Hall was 11-12 on the season and earned the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-3A after falling to Cherokee Bluff in the third-place game. 

The Trojans will go on the road to play LaFayette, which only lost one game all season and spent much of 2020-2021 inside the top 10 among Class 3A teams. 

GAINESVILLE BOYS VS ARCHER: The Red Elephants narrowly missed out on hosting a playoff game after falling in a tight contest against Denmark in the Region 6-7A semifinals. 

Gainesville picked up the No. 3 seed in the region after beating Lambert in the third-place game, and will now take on Archer in the first round of the Class 7A tournament on the road. 

The Tigers actually finished the regular season with a worse record in both region and nonregion games, but an upset over Norcross put the Archer in position to host a playoff game. 

The contest will be the first playoff game for the Red Elephants since they joined Class 7A.

FLOWERY BRANCH GIRLS VS MCDONOUGH: The Lady Falcons had their struggles this season, but according to head coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez, earning a home playoff game had been a goal for the team all season. 

Mission accomplished.

With an upset victory over North Oconee in the Region 8-4A semifinals, the Flowery Branch girls became the only team in Hall County to host a playoff game this season. 

The Lady Falcons will host McDonough this week.

“To host a state game was a big goal of ours,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “As you build programs, obviously the goal is to host state playoff games. To be the only team in Hall County to do that, we take pride in it. Because again, we’ve had an up and down season, and we’ve had a lot of things happen. For these girls to lock in here at the end and earn that, we’re excited.”

NORTH HALL GIRLS VS SONORAVILLE: The Lady Trojans also had an up-and-down season, but a victory over Dawson County in the Region 7-3A tournament helped lift North Hall to a No. 4 seed in the Class 3A tournament. 

The Lady Trojans will have their work cut out for them when they go on the road to take on the Lady Phoenix, who have won eight consecutive games coming into this contest.

First round schedule

Class 7A

Gainesville boys at Archer, 6 p.m. Wednesday

Class 4A

Flowery Branch girls vs. McDonough, 6 p.m. Tuesday

Class 3A

North Hall girls at Sonoraville, 6 p.m. Tuesday

North Hall boys at Lafayette, 7 p.m., Wednesday

Cherokee Bluff boys at Sonoraville, 6 p.m., Wednesday

Class A private schools

Lakeview Academy girls at Mount Paran, 6 p.m., Wednesday

Lakeview Academy boys at Christian Heritage, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Regional events