Class AAAAA quarterfinals
No. 2 Flowery Branch vs. No. 1 Brunswick
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Columbus State University, 4225 University Ave, Columbus, GA 31907
Facing an opponent fixated on creating pressure and mayhem in the backcourt, Flowery Branch will seek to control tempo and possession tonight in its Class AAAAA quarterfinal matchup against top-ranked Brunswick.
The second-ranked Lady Falcons (29-1) will tackle the Lady Pirates (29-2) at Columbus State University for a 6:30 p.m. tip that will decide who progresses to their first state semifinal appearance in school history.
In a contest worthy of the state title crown, Flowery Branch’s transition offense (63 points per game) will be pitted against Brunswick’s swarming full-court defense that has held opponents to just 44 points per game.
“We’re prepared,” said Flowery Branch first-year coach Courtney Newton. “We’re in for a battle for 32 minutes, no matter what. We’ve got to fight for all 32 minutes and make them count.”
Brunswick coach Maria Mangram said Wednesday that her Lady Pirates have used a full-court press for seven years, and that her players have bought into the system of harrying inbounds after baskets.
Behind a similar style, Brunswick opened up a 28-0 record in 2014-15 before falling to Stephenson in the second round of the playoffs. This year, Mangram’s team won its first second-round playoff game in program history and is looking for more behind a talented group of seniors.
Jomaiya Garner leads the Lady Pirates with 15 points per game, while Symone Palmer (13.7 points per game) pulls down just over six rebounds and four steals a game.
“Both of our teams are kind of similar,” said Mangram of Flowery Branch. “We press, and so do they. They play up-tempo, and so do we. I would love to be a fan, just sitting up there in the stands and watching it. It’ll be very interesting.”
Flowery Branch junior Julianne Sutton said the team has broken down Brunswick’s press on film and determined that the key will come down to controlling the ball and forcing the Lady Pirates to play at their pace. Behind the dogged work of sophomore point guard Lexie Sengkhammee, Sutton believes the Lady Falcons have the ability to see past Brunswick’s defense and create space for open shots.
The team has been working on drills that pit five offensive players on seven defensive players to mimic the pressure.
Knocking down clear layups and hustling back on defense will be crucial, according to Sutton. Flowery Branch has seen similar tactics against region opponents Gainesville and Loganville, according to players.
“It’s about handling the pressure,” she said. “When we watch film, we know who we need to pick up on and who to take care of. We’ve been going 110 percent in practice.”
Senior Kierra Knight said the Lady Falcons have been recuperating in ice baths to deal with the usual aches and pains from a long postseason run. Knight knocked down five 3-pointers to help Flowery Branch top Northside-Columbus last week following a small stretch where she was taken to the locker room for treatment on an injury.
Seniors Maddie Hetzel (hamstring) and Breanna Locke (orbital eye fracture) were also full participants during Flowery Branch’s practice Wednesday.
Knight said Brunswick has a tendency to drive in the lane and earn fouls to get to the free throw line. To limit the Lady Pirates, Knight said her team will have to play clean defense and stay calm during pressure moments. Flowery Branch earned its first region title in program history earlier this month by knocking off Loganville in the title game.
“It makes me feel confident,” said Knight. “We’re in a really tough region, so when you see the things that we’ve seen and know that we can play against it, you know anything can happen.”
Newton was a freshman for Flowery Branch the first and only other time the Lady Falcons made the state quarterfinals in 2003-04. She said she’s had several coaching colleagues give her advice and thoughts on how to handle the pressure of leading a team into unchartered territory.
The Lady Falcons, on a 13-game winning streak, will leave for Columbus State at 9 a.m. today and arrive at Columbus State around noon. The Lady Pirates left for Columbus Wednesday afternoon.
The winner progresses to play Winder-Barrow (25-6) in the Class AAAAA semifinal 3 p.m. Saturday at Columbus State University. The Lady Bulldoggs topped Mays 51-46 in their quarterfinal game on Thursday.
Sophomore Latrice Perkins scored 17 points, freshman Chellia Watson added 13, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa chipped in 11 Thursday night at Columbus State University to help Winder-Barrow reach the Class AAAAA state semifinals.
Should Flowery Branch meet Winder-Barrow, the Lady Falcons will have much game tape to pore over.
The Lady Falcons have beaten Winder-Barrrow three times this season, including a region tournament semifinal victory.
Flowery Branch earned two wins over the Lady Bulldoggs this year with margins of five points or less.
“We’re excited to be at this stage,” said Newton. “We’ll be taking this with us, mentally and physically.”
Notes: Both head coaches are leading their high school alma maters. Newton was a Lady Falcon from 2003-2007, while Mangram played from Brunswick High from 1995-99.
at Columbus State University
Flowery Branch girls vs. Brunswick, 6:30 p.m. Thursday
at Fort Valley State University
Buford girls vs. Arabia Mountain, 6:30 p.m. Friday
at Augusta University
West Hall girls vs. Maynard Jackson, 6:30 p.m. Friday
Class A private school
at Kennesaw State University
Lakview Academy girls vs. Southwest Atlanta Christian, 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Lakeview Academy boys vs. Whitefield Academy, 4:45 p.m. Friday