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High school basketball: Gainesville boys team dominates Winder-Barrow on senior night to take fourth straight region win
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Gainesville's Brent Kelly dribbles past Winder-Barrow's Brandon Bannis at Gainesville High School on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The seniors on Gainesville’s boys basketball team have won plenty of games over the last four years with the Red Elephants, and nothing was going to get in their way of taking one more Wednesday on senior night. From Brent Kelly’s assist of Rafael Rubel on the first basket of the game to Rassie Littlejohn’s emphatic dunk to finish things off, Gainesville dominated visiting Winder-Barrow, cruising to an 84-64 win. 

“It was really special to send them out with a win,” said Red Elephants coach Chuck Graham of his seniors. “They’ve had a lot of ups and downs in their career, but those kids have been able to persevere, just the epitome of hard work and sticking through something. Those kids are going to leave a legacy for our program. They kind of set the tone for a new chapter in our program. I’m proud of them.”

Rubel led the way for Gainesville (16-8, 8-1 Region 8-6A), scoring 18 points and grabbing three steals. Kelly and Littlejohn pitched in nine and eight points, respectively. 

“We just wanted to go out with a bang on senior night,” Kelly said.

And that’s exactly what the team did. 

After yielding a pair of 3s at the beginning of the first quarter to fall into an early deficit, the Red Elephants finished the frame on a 16-4 run that gave them a nine-point lead eight minutes in. Gainesville would never trail for the rest of the game. 

The teams played even basketball in the second quarter, and Gainesville’s advantage stayed at nine going into the halftime break. 

But with the start of the third quarter, the visiting Bulldogg’s brought a renewed level of energy to the court. A 10-2 run in the middle of the period brought Winder-Barrow to within six points of the lead, but the Bulldoggs could go no further than that. 

Gainesville finished off the frame on an 8-2 run of its own, earning some extra breathing room going into the fourth quarter. Kelly said the key to keeping the game under control while the opposing team made its run was staying calm and sticking to the game plan. 

“Just keep playing, making plays,” he said. “Keep playing basketball. It’s going to come.” 

The Red Elephants never lowered their level of intensity. 

Winder-Barrow hung around for much of the final frame, but a 3-pointer from Rubel with 35 second to go and Littlejohn’s game-ending dunk kept the win comfortable for Gainesville. 

The victory sets up a key matchup for the Red Elephants against Lanier on Friday. The winner of that game will claim the No. 1 seed in the Region 8-6A tournament. It will also be an opportunity for Gainesville to avenge its only loss in the last 13 games — an overtime defeat on the road at the hands of the Longhorns earlier this month. 

Gainesville has otherwise been perfect since winning its third consecutive Lanierland title in late December.

“We played well enough on the road at their place to win the game,” Graham said. “... We’re looking to come in, same battle, keep the same perspective and just fight. We can’t control everything, but we can control our effort and our energy, and that’s what we’re looking forward to doing.”

WINDER-BARROW GIRLS 62, GAINESVILLE 61: The Lady Red Elephants nearly climbed back from a 14-point third quarter deficit to the Lady Bulldoggs, but senior Tija Blackwell’s last-second shot was just a bit too strong, and Gainesville dropped its third straight region game. 

Blackwell led the Lady Red Elephants (11-11, 3-6 Region 8-6A) with 25 points on senior night, and fellow senior Tia Shelton put in 20. The two combined for 18 in the final quarter alone.

“They’re special kids,” said Gainesville coach Alan Griffin of his dynamic senior duo. “I’m going to miss them a lot. They mean a whole lot to this program. They mean a whole lot to me. I’m blessed and privileged to have gotten to coach them.”

The Lady Red Elephants led early thanks to a 9-0 run to close out the opening quarter. In the second period, however, the Lady Bulldoggs tightened up defensively, allowing just one Gainesville field goal in the last six minutes before the half.

Gainesville’s deficit was seven to start the third quarter, and the gap grew to 14 by around the midway point of the period. Lauren Teasley’s 4-0 run to close out the third frame made things closer, and Blackwell’s 9-0 run to begin the final quarter tied the game up. 

Shelton scored all nine of her fourth-quarter points in the final four and a half minutes and briefly gave Gainesville a four-point lead. But the Lady Red Elephants could not hold on, failing to score in the final minute of the game.  

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