Something old, something new; that’s what was decided Wednesday night during the second round of the Region 7-AAA girls basketball tournament at Gainesville High.
The new is the Chestatee Lady War Eagles, who with their 51-24 defeat of Flowery Branch put them in the Class AAA state tournament for the first time in school history.
The old? Gainesville is headed back to the state playoffs for the 13th straight year. The Lady Red Elephants (16-9) advanced to the state tournament with a convincing 50-24 win over West Hall, which proved that Friday’s semifinal game between Chestatee (16-9) and Gainesville will be a battle between two legitimate region title contenders.
“That’s what’s supposed to happen this time of year,” Gainesville coach Manson Hill said. “The games are not supposed to be easy.”
If Chestatee plays like it did Wednesday it won’t be.
Defense and solid outside shooting helped the Lady War Eagles jump to an early lead, and by the six-minute mark of the second quarter, they had built a 10-point advantage.
Making four of their first eight 3-point attempts, Chestatee was able to keep a lead in large part due to the Lady Falcons’ (11-15) struggles from the field. After missing its first seven attempts, Flowery Branch shot just 28 percent from the floor and entered the half down by seven. Jessica Harper led the Lady Falcons with eight points.
While the perimeter shooting helped Chestatee build a lead, it was the play of sophomore forward Peyton Robertson that allowed them to turn the game into a blowout.
Robertson started the third quarter a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, scoring nine of her game-high 19 points in the period.
“Our game plan is to work the ball inside-out,” Chestatee coach Web Daniel said. “We got some plays called for her and they worked out. She’s gonna be a big-time player someday.”
That was evident in the third quarter as Robertson scored on three straight possessions all off passes from Chelsea Wilson, who ended the game with seven assists and nine rebounds.
Robertson’s big third quarter combined with Flowery Branch scoring just four points, all but secured the Lady War Eagles’ first state playoff appearance.
“Our goal was to go to state,” said Daniel, whose team outscored the Lady Falcons 16-5 in the fourth quarter. “The girls played hard and I’m proud of that.”
Daniel was even more proud of the way his team handled the game plan of stalling from the third quarter on.
“We’re still young and I wanted to make sure we did everything right,” he said. “They executed well in staying patient.”
While he admitted that taking the air out of the ball was a way to prepare for the state playoffs, Daniel may be forced to use the same game plan Friday against Gainesville.
Like the Lady War Eagles, Gainesville came out on a mission against West Hall, both offensively and defensively.
Mikalyn DeFoor scored off the opening tip and Gainesville sank its first three shots before West Hall (9-16) scored its first point.
The Lady Red Elephants’ scoring spree wasn’t done there, and when Kiki Thompson hit a wide-open 3-pointer, Gainesville’s lead was 13-2. Thompson ended with a game-high 12 points and junior Jaymee Carnes added 11.
Although the offense was impressive, the defense was even more so, as Gainesville held West Hall without a field goal until midway through the second quarter when Bailey Soucie got by the defense for a layup.
“We really work on defense,” said Hill, whose team allowed only two field goals in the first half. “We feel like defense is real important to us and our kids buy into that.”
Holding onto the ball is also a focus of the Lady Red Elephants, who committed only five turnovers in the game.
“This time of year if you don’t focus you go home,” Hill said.
With a 26-12 lead entering the third quarter, Gainesville kept its focus, limiting the Lady Spartans to just 12 points in the second half.
West Hall was led by Amber Johnson’s eight points. West Hall senior Jayla Moon, the team’s leading scorer, was held to just five points.
After the game, Hill pulled aside Moon and gave her a message.
“That’s between me and Jayla,” he said. “I just really like how she plays.”
Moon’s career as well as the Lady Spartans season is now complete, as is that of the Flowery Branch Lady Falcons.
Gainesville and Chestatee will play each other in the Region 7-AAA semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday at Chestatee.