FLOWERY BRANCH —Two wins, you’re in. Two losses, you’re out. That was the scenario facing both Flowery Branch and Gainesville as each team opened play in the Area 8-AAAAA tournament Thursday.
After a pair of sweeps, both teams will advance to Saturday unscathed needing just one more victory to secure berths in the state tournament.
Second-seeded Gainesville opened play with a 25-23, 25-13 win over No. 7 Winder-Barrow, and No. 5 Flowery Branch followed with a 25-12, 25-17 victory against Clarke Central.
The Lady Red Elephants will play the winner of No. 3 Loganville and No. 6 Heritage at 9 a.m. Saturday, while the Lady Falcons will face top-seeded Apalachee at the same time.
“We had a really good night,” Flowery Branch coach Rick Godfrey said after his team’s win. “They’ve been working extremely hard in practice and it’s nice to see it pay off for them.”
It was especially gratifying for a Lady Falcons team (13-22) which lost multiple matches this season in three games, including a defeat at the hands of Clarke Central in the regular season finale.
“We’ve been right on the cusp of doing something great all season long, and they picked a great time to kick it into high gear and play their best game,” Godfrey said. “We had lot of people stepping up, I’m just real proud of them.”
In Thursday’s first match, Gainesville (20-9) started slow. The first game with Winder-Barrow was a back-and-forth affair, and just as the Lady Red Elephants seemed to be gaining separation, the Lady Bulldogs roared back to take a 23-22 lead.
“We were kind of weak on our serve,” Gainesville coach Randi Orr said. “We gave away more than we should have, so we need to work on that (Friday) and make sure we’re ready to play the tough teams on Saturday.”
Gainesville, which reached the playoffs for the first time last season, rallied strong to take the final three points and get the win in the first game.
Winder-Barrow again took a slim lead to start the second game and remained within striking distance until an impressive service run from Anna Walker vaulted the Lady Red Elephants to the win. When Walker took over, Gainesville held a 15-13 lead — Winder-Barrow never reclaimed the serve. Walker finished the game with back-to-back aces.
“Anna Walker had a great day today with her serving, winning that second game with her kills,” Orr said. “Stasha (Hopkins) did also, and Lauren Carter with her digs – that’s exactly what we needed offensively and defensively.”
Walker finished with seven service points, six aces and 11 kills; Hopkins added six service points and six kills; and Kaylin Walden had eight service points, two aces and 21 assists.
Flowery Branch also benefitted from a pair of strong service runs.
The Lady Falcons seized control with six straight points with Erin McGlone controlling the serve in the first game, then came from behind in the second game to close out the Lady Gladiators with a nine-point run from Katie Hall that featured four aces.
Autumn Luken finished with seven kills and two blocks for Flowery Branch, Colleen Grider added six kills, Chanel Lear recorded 10 assists and two blocks, and Kayla Adolf had five aces and two assists.
Saturday’s matches in the double-elimination tournament begin at 9 a.m., and the finals are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. All games will be played at Flowery Branch High.
“Hopefully things will go well Saturday, but we’re not taking anybody for granted,” Godfrey said. “Every team in our area is close. You look at the first two games we played tonight and they were really close. Anybody can beat anybody, I’m just glad our girls had a great night.”