There are no easy games when it comes to state basketball semifinals, but the Flowery Branch girls team faces one of the toughest challenges today of all the groups left in their respective playoff brackets.
After taking down Henry County — Score Atlanta’s No. 2 team in 4A — on Tuesday, the third-ranked Lady Falcons now must go head to head with top-ranked Carver-Columbus.
The game will tip off at 6 p.m. this evening at Fort Valley State University.
“They’re a great team,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said of the Lady Tigers. “They’ve been a great team the last couple years.”
She’s not wrong.
The Carver girls squad has been one of the most dominant groups in 4A over the past couple of seasons. The Lady Tigers enter today’s contest at a perfect 30-0 mark this year. They have won 45 of their last 46 games dating back to last season, with a loss against eventual state champion Spalding in last year’s semifinals the only mark on an otherwise perfect span of games.
And while the Lady Tigers’ 30-game undefeated run is certainly an impressive accomplishment, Newton-Gonzalez said she and her team aren’t letting their opponent’s perfect season intimidate them.
“I don’t think our kids are even concerned with that, to be honest,” she said. “It is a great accomplishment on their part, and I think if this was earlier in the season and it was just a random game, then yeah. But just knowing that it’s the Final Four, I don’t think we think about that.”
Of course, that’s not to say Newton-Gonzalez and her players don’t have a good deal of respect for a Carver team that has made it to state semifinals for three straight years now.
Newton-Gonzalez said the Lady Tigers pose many of the same issues as Henry County did.
“Carver likes to run in transition,” she said. “They like to press. They’re a quick team. That’s what makes them a little bit similar to Henry. We’re glad that we just got exposed to that.”
She added that Carver post player Olivia Cochran poses a particular challenge, and that the battle between Cochran and Flowery Branch sophomore Ashlee Locke down low will be a matchup to watch in the game.
Luckily for the Lady Falcons, those sorts of battles are not new for Locke.
“(Locke) just saw that last game, and I think our playoff run, a lot of the teams have been post-heavy,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “So that’s been good that we’ve had that exposure the last couple games.”
Flowery Branch has also had plenty of exposure to big games in general, which Newton-Gonzalez said has already been a major advantage for her team in their run to state semifinals.
Much like their upcoming opponent, the Lady Falcons have played in state semifinal games in three straight years, making it all the way to the 5A championship game last season. Flowery Branch’s trio of senior starters in Caroline Wysocki, Ashley Woodroffe and Ashley Scott has picked up plenty of playoff experience along the way.
“The fact that we do have a senior class that has been in these games, that has felt the environment and has felt what it’s like to be at this stage, I thought that was big for us last game,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “We’ve just got to continue to lean on that.”
At the end of the day, according to Newton-Gonzalez, speculating on the outcome of the game will only go so far.
Past trends and key matchups paint a small piece of the picture, but winning this late into the postseason comes down to poise and execution.
“At this stage, you’ve just got to play,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “All the teams left are great, and we’ve just got to make sure that we’re bringing what we do great as well to the court.”