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Area basketball teams brace for more pressure in region tournament semifinals
No. 1 seed Gainesville boys keep all focus on 'the process'
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Gainesville's Xavier Bledson (13) dribbles around East Hall's Deonte Evans (12) Friday during the championship game of the Lanierland Tournament at Gainesville High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

FRIDAY'S REGION TOURNAMENT SEMIFINAL GAMES 
Region 8-A girls at Lakeview Academy

Prince Avenue vs. Tallulah Falls, 4 p.m.

Lakeview Academy vs. George Walton, 7 p.m.

Region 8-A boys at Lakeview Academy

Athens Christian vs. Tallulah Falls, 5:30 p.m.

Lakeview Academy vs. Towns County, 8:30 p.m.

Region 7-AAA girls at Union County

North Hall vs. GAC, 4 p.m.

Dawson County vs. East Hall, 7 p.m.

Region 7-AAA boys at Union County

Dawson County vs. East Hall, 5:30 p.m.

Lumpkin County vs. GAC, 8:30 p.m.

Region 7-AAAA girls at Chestatee

Chestatee vs. Blessed Trinity, 4 p.m.

Marist vs. West Hall, 7 p.m.

Region 7-AAAA boys at Chestatee

White County vs. Marist, 5 p.m.

West Hall vs. Blessed Trinity, 8:30 p.m.

Region 8-AAAAA girls at Cedar Shoals

Buford vs. Clarke Central, 4 p.m.

Loganville vs. Flowery Branch, 7 p.m.

Region 8-AAAAA boys at Cedar Shoals

Buford vs. Loganville, 5:30 p.m.

Flowery Branch vs. Cedar Shoals, 8:30 p.m.

Region 8-AAAAAA girls at Apalachee

Gainesville vs. Dacula, 4 p.m.

Habersham Central vs. Winder-Barrow, 7 p.m.

Region 8-AAAAAA boys at Apalachee

Lanier vs. Dacula, 6 p.m.

Gainesville vs. Winder-Barrow, 8:30 p.m.

It comes to no surprise the status quo remains a constant for the top-seeded Gainesville boys basketball team.

Despite being one of the seven area teams with first-round byes in region tournament play this year, Red Elephants coach Benjie Wood never changed the conversation with his players leading up to tonight’s Region 8-AAAAAA semifinal with No. 5 seed Winder-Barrow at Apalachee.

“We’re gonna continue on with the process, and the journey of what we’ve been trying to do,” said Wood. “You know, at this point in the year, everybody throws in a couple of wrinkles, but you don’t completely change what you’ve been doing. We’ve got a few wrinkles we’ll throw in here or there.”

The Buford boys and girls, West Hall girls and East Hall girls are the remaining top seeds of their respective regions to come off a bye and play in tonight’s semifinals. The Gainesville and Chestatee girls are No. 2 seeds to receive the same perk.

Everyone at this point has locked up a playoff spot.

The Red Elephants (24-1) are knocking on the door of a No. 1 playoff seed and homecourt advantage through the state quarterfinals, not to mention their first region tournament title since 2013. Gainesville fell to Cedar Shoals in the Region 8-AAAAA final last February.

Gainesville swept the Bulldoggs by margins of 29 and 47 points, respectively, in the 2016-17 regular season. But tonight’s 8:30 p.m. tipoff will be the first action Wood’s team has seen in a week. The coach is still convinced of this poised bunch entering the latter stages of the tournament. The Red Elephants secured a first-round bye with an unbeaten mark in Region 8-AAAAAA.

“Each team is different, but these guys have now played in big games. So they’re a little more comfortable with the big games, and that just takes time to do that," the coach said.

The winner will go on to face either No. 3 seed Lanier or Dacula in the championship 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Apalachee.

In Class AAAAA, the No. 3 seed Flowery Branch boys have been one of many area teams looking to gain momentum before the playoffs. A 65-42 win over Clarke Central in the first round Tuesday got the Falcons (18-7) over their early-round region tournament slump to clinch their first postseason berth since 2009.

With a win tonight, they’ll get the winner of No. 1 Buford and No. 5 Loganville for a shot at the championship on Saturday.

The Falcons lost the head-to-head with Buford, but swept Loganville during regular season.

Sixth-seed Lumpkin County moved on with a win against North Hall, securing the Indians (13-13) a state tournament berth for the fourth consecutive season. So far, the Indians (13-13) have shown their current record doesn’t truly represent their abilities according to coach Jeff Steele. The Indians can make an even bigger statement if they upset top-seeded Greater Atlanta Christian, which swept the head-to-head games in the regular season, when they play at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Blairsville.

Steele feels anything is possible, given East Hall defeated the Spartans by 20 early on the docket. The Indians will have to keep the Spartans off the glass, while slowing Air Force commit Charlie O’Briant, according to Steele.

Lumpkin County lost the previous two meetings, though led the Spartans for a spell before ultimately falling 74-54 at Greater Atlanta Christian on Jan. 3.

“It’s gonna take a special performance, but you know, we were up on them at halftime at their place, and up three going into the fourth. So if we take care of the little things, we’ll have a chance,” said the second-year Lumpkin County coach.

“Obviously, they’re the favorite to win the region tournament, but the pressure’s on them. ...We don’t have anything to lose.

We’re playing with house money right now. Hopefully we’re gonna be loose and go do what we need to do.”

No. 2 seed East Hall overcame a small hurdle in the opening quarter Wednesday to eventually top Fannin County in the quarterfinals. The Vikings (18-7) play No. 3 seed Dawson County in the semifinal 5:30 p.m. today.

Even with the top seed going into tourney play, the Lakeview Academy boys won its quarterfinal game to continue their run toward a second-straight Region 8-A tourney title. The Lions host Towns County 8:30 p.m. tonight in the semifinal round. And with a win against George Walton tonight, the Lady Lions (22-4) will get the chance to attempt that same feat this Saturday.

Hanna Grogan and Ryann Moody scored 17 points apiece in Tuesday’s quarterfinal tournament win over Athens Christian.

The No. 2 seed Lady War Eagles (19-6) play Blessed Trinity on their own court in the Region 7-AAAA tournament at 4 p.m. today in Gainesville. The Lady Spartans (20-5), led by the school’s all-time leading scorer Anna McKendree and senior Macy Passmore, kickstart their quest for back-to-back Region 7-AAAA tourney titles, against No. 4 seed Marist at 7 p.m. to follow.

Regional events