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Defense propels Flowery Branch girls to upset win
Jessica Harper, center, of Flowery Branch, battles for a rebound with Shelby Bright, left, and Rachel Kelley, of Flowery Branch - photo by Tom Reed

There’s a reason coaches preach that defense wins games, and the Flowery Branch girls basketball team proved Saturday night that they have been listening.

Playing a stifling, pressure-packed, man-to-man defense, the Lady Falcons forced 24 Chestatee turnovers and limited the Lady
War Eagles to just one made 3-pointer on only three attempts en route to a 42-40 upset win at Chestatee in the Region 7-AAA quarterfinals.

With the win, Flowery Branch advances to the Class AAA state tournament and the region tournament semifinals where it will face Gainesville at 7 p.m. Monday at Flowery Branch.

Gainesville advanced earlier in the night by beating Pickens 45-33.

“We’re athletic, but don’t shoot the ball well,” said second-year Lady Falcons coach Hazel Hall. “We try to take advantage of our athleticism.”

And take advantage of it they did, earning nine steals on the night, including three each from senior Cash Champion and sophomore Chelsey Young.

Champion — who along with Erica Williams, Jessica Harper and Tori Cheeks — is part of a senior class that has never made it to the state tournament and came up big on both ends of the floor for the Lady Falcons (15-9).

With Chestatee’s defense keying on Flowery Branch leading scorer Jessica Harper, who scored 27 points against Gilmer in the first round of the tournament, Champion stepped up to lead the team in scoring with 12 points, while also getting two rebounds
and four assists to go with her steals.

“I was hungry (for this game),” Champion said. “We needed a change at Flowery Branch in the way we played and the seniors wanted to make it to state.

“I came ready to play tonight because I knew I’d have to step up.”

Twice Champion corralled a rebound on the defensive end and took it the length of the floor for a layup, including in the waning seconds of the third quarter to pull her team to within one point of a Chestatee (20-5) lead.

“I really thought that was a momentum changer,” Chestatee coach Web Daniel said. “Mentally and physically they were tougher than us tonight.

“They were a better team tonight.”

Flowery Branch came out focused defensively and on fire offensively.

The Lady Falcons went on a 9-0 run to start the game, going 4 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the 3-point line. They also held Chestatee without a field goal, including zero 3-point attempts, until there were two seconds remaining in the first quarter when Chelsea Wilson hit Peyton Robertson for a layup.

Wilson finished the night with four assists.

“We were trying to limit the 3s,” Hall said, “and limit Peyton, but we didn’t do a good job of that.”

Robertson finished with a game-high 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

The Lady War Eagles clawed their way back in the second quarter, taking their first lead of the game at 14-12 on a runner by
Wilson. They pushed the lead to four on their next possession thanks to a layup by Diana Porras.

Chestatee looked as though it had thoroughly regained its composure and had the game in hand midway through the third quarter, until Flowery Branch went on a game-changing 12-7 run capped by a Tavia Sykes steal and layup to give her team a one-point lead.

The two teams literally went back-and-forth for the duration of the game, trading baskets, turnovers, fouls and free throws.
Flowery Branch held a two-point lead for the last 30 seconds of the game and while Chestatee had its chances late, the Lady Falcons prevailed.

“I thought we had our chances late, just couldn’t do anything with them,” Daniel said.

Flowery Branch will now return home to play in the region semifinals.

“Our girls watched Lanierland happen in their gym, they didn’t get to play in it,” Hall said. “It was tough watching everybody else playing in our gym and we’re not.”

“It feels great,” said Champion regarding playing the rest of the region tournament at home. “Now we want to take region.”

Chestatee’s season is now complete.

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