When the Gainesville boys basketball team takes on Langston Hughes Saturday evening in a first-round playoff bout, the Red Elephants will be hoping third time really is the charm.
Gainesville’s season has ended against the Panthers in each of the last two seasons — a loss in last year’s 6A state championship and a defeat in state quarterfinals the year before that.
Given the history between the teams, Saturday evening’s contest could get a bit more heated than a typical first-round contest.
“We’ve kind of developed a little rivalry with Langston, because all the games we have played have been big games,” Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said. “No matter what years we’ve played them, there’s been a lot at stake. There are a couple guys on our team that played in that game last year, and they have a couple guys that played also. The atmosphere that will be there Saturday will be tremendous. We just look forward to the challenge.”
Gainesville qualified for the state playoffs this year before any region tournament action took place by claiming a top-two region seed, so Saturday’s game will be the Red Elephants’ first elimination game of the year.
Still, Graham said the team has been “in playoff mode” ever since its regular season finale against Lanier in early February.
“We treated that just like a playoff game,” he said. “The message was clear: just be 1-0 after this game. And we took that mindset into the region tournament. Just be 1-0 after this game.”
The “1-0 mentality” is one that several teams around Hall County will be prescribing to as state playoffs get underway. In addition to the Gainesville boys, 13 other area teams advanced to their state tournaments — six on the boys side and seven on the girls.
Among them is a North Hall girls squad that is coming off playing perhaps its best basketball of the year in the Region 7-3A tournament. The Lady Trojans advanced all the way to the finals before losing to Greater Atlanta Christian by a point.
The deep region tournament run was enough to earn North Hall a home game to start the tournament out after being forced to go on the road for first-round games in each of the last two years. The Lady Trojans will play North Murray at North Hall High School Friday evening.
“We’re happy to play at home,” North Hall coach Kristi House said. “We had the region tournament at home here last weekend. That was just a great atmosphere for basketball. We’ve been on the road a lot in the state tournament the past couple years, so for us to have the opportunity to play at home and host, it just adds a little bit of extra excitement for the kids, their families and for our community.”
The Gainesville boys and North Hall girls find themselves in similar positions entering their respective state tournaments, but playoff results for the two programs have been vastly different over the past couple of seasons. The Red Elephants have made it to at least the quarterfinals in each of the last two years, while the Lady Trojans have not made it past the second round.
Despite this, the two teams are attacking the situations in largely the same way.
“I think this time of year there’s just an urgency to get it done,” House said. “It’s your go or go home game every single night.”
Graham couldn’t have said it better himself.
“This week in practice there’s been a sense of urgency, and the guys have been locked in,” he said. “I know we’ll play well.”
First round schedule
Gainesville girls at Langston Hughes, 7 p.m. tonight
Gainesville boys vs. Langston Hughes, 6 p.m. Saturday
Flowery Branch girls vs. Pickens, 6 p.m. tonight
Chestatee at Heritage, 6 p.m. tonight
West Hall boys at Southeast Whitfield, 6 p.m. Saturday
North Hall girls vs. North Murray, 6 p.m. tonight
Cherokee Bluff girls at Sonoraville, 7 p.m. tonight
East Hall boys at Calhoun, 6 p.m. Saturday
Riverside Military and both Lakeview Academy teams have a first-round bye in the Class A private schools brackets.