Chestatee head girls basketball coach Web Daniel has been around the Lady War Eagles from its early on, watching the program evolve to the Class AAAA force it has become today.
During that whole process, Daniel was missing a major achievement for any Hall County team — a Lanierland Tournament title. But even that has now changed.
Chestatee (11-1) earned its first-ever tournament trophy on Saturday at North Hall, when the Lady War Eagles edged unbeaten Flowery Branch 46-44 in the championship game of the county invitational’s 53rd installment.
“I felt that the last five years or so, we’ve been one of the best teams in the state, especially around this area,” Daniel said. “You have to prove yourself, and this team wanted to come out and show the county. We wanted to show everybody that we’re a good ball team, and that there are good ball teams in this county.”
Chestatee certainly won’t be an unknown anymore.
Playing in front of a near-capacity crowd, the Lady War Eagles used a dominant first half to hold off a Flowery Branch (11-1) team that roared back to life in the second half. The Lady Falcons turned a 13-point halftime deficit down to only two points with 27 seconds left to play.
But each time Flowery Branch found the basket and stopped the clock with an intentional foul, Chestatee responded at the free-throw line through Samantha Brown.
The Lady War Eagles’ senior went 7 for 9 from the line in the fourth quarter, and scored her team’s final five baskets to hold Flowery Branch’s late surge. She finished the game with 13 points.'
“To be kind of honest, I was just thinking of my coach – he earned it,” Brown said. “My teammates needed me this year, so I tried to step up the best that I can, especially in the championship game.”
Chestatee led 24-11 at halftime, but the pinpoint shooting that made Flowery Branch an undefeated team through its first 11 games came to life. After shooting just seven percent from the field in the first half, the Lady Falcons began chipping away at the Lady War Eagles’ lead, outscoring them in the third quarter to trail 32-21 entering the fourth.
Flowery Branch began to seriously threaten Chestatee shortly after the midway point of the final quarter, when it hit three consecutive baskets to trail 39-34. Tavia Sykes scored at the 1:50 mark and the 40-second mark to keep her team behind by just three, but Brown continued to keep the Lady War Eagles ahead with her consistent free-throw shooting.
“We shoot free-throws every day, and we knew it was going to come down to that,” Daniel said. “She’s one of our better free-throw shooters, so she knocked the free-throws down.”
Flowery Branch’s Breanna Locke tossed in a basket with 27 seconds left to bring the score even closer at 44-42, and Brown hit two more free-throws in response.
Sykes’ layup at the buzzer was the final breath for Flowery Branch.
“I thought that we did a pretty good job of getting back into the game when we started playing a little bit, and we did what we needed to do,” Lady Falcons head coach Hazel Hall said. “We just didn’t shoot the ball very well and we missed a lot of easy opportunities.”
Brown shared Chestatee’s scoring lead with Maegan Kenimer, who scored seven of her 13 points in the first half and was named tournament MVP. She was also named to the All-Tournament team, along with teammate Bridgette Kelly. Erin Clifford also hit double figures, scoring 11 for the Lady War Eagles.
Chestatee held Flowery Branch to just one field goal and three 3-pointers in the half, jumping out to a 12-6 lead after one quarter. They held Sykes, commonly the Lady Falcons primary offensive threat, to just three point in the first half. She was more effective in the second half, and finished the game with 15 points.
“We didn’t change anything for her,” Daniel said. “We played our zone defense and we watched where she was, but there was no major concern about her. You can’t stop good ball players, and in the second half she turned it on and played a little bit better.”
The conclusion of the tournament wraps up the December schedule for both teams. Chestatee returns to play against Lumpkin County on Jan.8, while Flowery Branch visits Heritage on Jan. 4.
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 34, WEST HALL 22: The Lady Red Elephants held the Lady Spartans to just nine points following a 13-13 tie at halftime between the two teams in Saturday’s fifth-place game.
Gainesville (4-4) next competes in the Chris Mance Memorial Tournament from Dec. 27-30. West Hall (6-5) is off until Jan. 4, when it visits Banks County.