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High school basketball playoffs: Flowery Branch girls hungry for more history
No. 2 seed Lady Falcons focused, locked in as they seek return to Class 5A semifinals
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Flowery Branch's Taniyah Worth goes behind Rome's Justyce Moore, left, under the basket during the first half of their Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 game at the Flowery Branch High gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Courtney Newton-Gonzalez made it clear in recent weeks that her Flowery Branch High girls basketball players know where they want to be in March.

A third-consecutive appearance in the state quarterfinals, while sweet, is just a small piece of what these battle-tested Lady Falcons want to taste this season.

“They are focused. I think they’ve got a hunger, obviously,” said Newton-Gonzalez, who is in her third-season coaching the Lady Falcons. 

The No. 2 seed Lady Falcons (24-6) seek a second-straight final four berth, nearly one year removed from a heartbreaking loss on that very stage. Flowery Branch carried a lead into the final quarter before Southwest Dekalb rallied from an eight-point deficit to win at Columbus State University last March. 

“They’ve tasted some of the success these last couple of years, and they’ve tasted what the final four is like,” the coach added. “Losing such a close game in the final four, they want to get back so they can have another opportunity. ...They know we’ve got more work ahead of us.”

Redemption is still very much be in sight for Flowery Branch. The Lady Falcons were on the winning end of a GHSA-mandated universal coin flip last week, and as a result will host fellow two-seed Dutchdown, which upset Ware County 44-42 in the second round last week, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, in Flowery Branch.

Last year’s crushing defeat is an unpleasant feeling that four-year staple Lexie Sengkhammee said they rather not relive.  

“We kind of know how sweet it is to get to the final four. Most of us just want to be back there again,” said senior point guard Sengkhammee.

The Emmanuel College signee Sengkhammee’s 17 points and five 3-pointers paced the Lady Falcons to a big first-round win against No. 3 seed Rome on Feb. 16.

“We have experience, so I think our nerves are a little lower than they’ve been the last couple of years,” Sengkhammee said. “That carries over.”

That type of production carried over into the second round contest Feb. 21, during which junior guard Ashley Woodroffe tallied a 27-point, four rebound outing, and University of Alabama signee Taniyah Worth’s 20 points and five steals in a 68-39 win over Lithia Springs. Freshman Ashlee Locke also chipped in 15 boards in the win.

Newton-Gonzalez said it was satisfying to see this seasoned group continue to raise the bar through both playoff wins thus far.

“We played a great Rome team in the first round, which was great for us. But To see Ashley Woodroffe playing her style of game in the playoffs is good, and to see Taniyah just being Taniyah,” the coach added. “Everybody has just embraced their roles and they know what we expect from there. They know what they’ve done well all season. There are no surprises. 

Everyone is sharing the ball well and playing well. I just hope to continue that (tonight).”

It certainly will have to continue tonight against an athletic 10th-ranked Bulldogs team which knocked off a 26-game winner Ware County last week. Dutchtown currently houses two standout forwards in senior Jordan Maney and junior India Bellamy.

Bellamy, a move-in from Eagles Landing Christian Academy, earned a starting role at Dutchtown at the start of the 2017-18 season after she averaged 20 points and earned First-team All-County honors as her sophomore with the Lady Chargers. Maney is also a returning All-County selection for the Lady Bulldogs. 

“They play great defense, and have two very athletic post players who can do multiple things — shoot the 15-footer and get to the basket well,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “They’re great in transition as well. They play good competition in their region as well. ...We know they won some big games throughout these playoffs.”

Flowery Branch also has clearly drawn strength from its highly competitive Region 8-5A it inhabits, which includes reigning Class 5A champ Buford. The Lady Falcons’ lone three region losses this season came against the top-ranked Lady Wolves, which currently occupies the bottom-left quadrant of the Class 5A tournament. Buford plays fellow No. 1 seed Eagles Landing at 6 p.m. today.

As for Flowery Branch, hosting a playoff game of this magnitude means something more to Flowery Branch than home court advantage. It gives Newton-Gonzalez’s four seniors one last opportunity to play inside their own gymnasium, as well as do it in front of a loyal fanbase and community.

“We were so, so excited about when our athletic director (Jimmy Lawler) gave us the news,” Newton-Gonzalez added. “...It’s a special thing. We’re definitely excited about stepping onto our court one more time.”

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