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Flowery Branch comes up short against Salem 55-51, falls in 8-AAAAA quarterfinals
Salem will take on Gainesville High in Fridays region tournament semifinal at Winder-Barrow
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Flowery Branch's Trey Bailey (22) goes up for a shot while being guarded by Salem's Chandler Davis (3) during Tuesday's Region 8-AAAAA tournament quarterfinal game at Gainesville High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

John Mills was already hyped to get to work in the offseason. 

But Tuesday evening’s loss to Salem in the Region 8-AAAAA quarterfinals may have stoked yet another fire inside the Flowery Branch junior.

The guard led all scorers with 23 points, but the Falcons (16-11) fell to the Seminoles 55-51 at the Gainesville High gym, ending Flowery Branch’s bid for a spot in the state tournament.

Flowery Branch has not made it to the state playoffs since 2009.

“I’m really looking forward to next year,” said Mills. “It’s just made my strive for next year, like 10 times higher.”

The Falcons led by as many as 11 points with 6:03 to play in the third quarter, but were outscored 21-14 in the final eight minutes. Gabe Holston (12 points) notched a long trey with 40 seconds left to tie the game at 51-51, but Salem’s Brandon Smith (21 points) connected on two late free throws before Chandler Davis (17 points) finished off the game’s final breakaway layup.

Salem (17-9) will next tackle Gainesville in the 8-AAAAA semifinals on Friday at Winder-Barrow High School. The game will tip off at 8:30 p.m.

Gainesville (19-4) defeated Loganville 82-51 in Tuesday’s nightcap at Gainesville High to reach the semifinal matchup.

Flowery Branch coach David Sokol said his team deserved to win, especially without the Seminoles’ leading scorer Michael Green (17 points per game) available to play.

“Yes, I do,” said Sokol. “The turnovers in the second half really changed us, but we responded. We had the last chance we wanted, but it didn’t go our way. It’s a tough loss, but one I told them not to forget. I want it to fire them up and motivate them.”

The Falcons fought hard in the final three minutes just to reach a one-possession game. Salem executed a 9-2 run to open the fourth quarter and take a 49-43 lead with 2:50 left to play.

However, Mills and Holston did well to sink contested treys in between Brannon Clark’s converted free throws.

Smith sank two free throws with 25.8 seconds left on the clock before Holston had one last designed play to equalize.

Holston broke into the Seminole paint, but was unable to get his runner to fall, leading Salem to take the final meaningful possession.

Mills and Sokol both decried a critical point in the middle of the third where Salem opened up an 11-0 run to cut the Flowery Branch lead to just three heading into the final quarter. Mills, who suffered a right shoulder injury during Salem’s streak, was being treated at the baseline during most of that time.

“We’ve got to make the smart decisions and cut out our turnovers,” said Mills. “Just take a second to look around and be smart. This next group of guys in the JV, they’ll come up and be a great help to us. It’s pass, pass, pass with them.”

Garfield Woodroffe totalled 10 points for Flowery Branch, who made 13 of its 16 free throws.

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