FLOWERY BRANCH — Preparation led the Lady Falcons to the postseason, and it nearly propelled them to the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
Flowery Branch slowed down the tempo and limited the effectiveness of 6-foot-3 center Mariah Dean, but it turned the ball over 25 times in a 48-43 overtime loss to Mays on Friday in the opening round of the state tournament.
“Our plan was good, and I thought we executed it well,” Flowery Branch coach Hazel Hall said. “We just got tired, tentative on offense and we couldn’t score at the end.”
The Lady Falcons (10-20) exerted a lot of energy trying to stop Dean as well as Mays guard Kristi Ware, who scored 11 of her 16 points in the first quarter. Not only that, but they played the second half without the injured Dani Lacko and the entire fourth quarter without Cara Chilton, who fouled out after scoring six points and playing solid defense on Dean.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Lady Falcons kept the game close throughout the second half and made a 6-0 run at the end of the third quarter to cut the deficit to one. Four of those points came from sophomore Jacy Ramey, whose attempt at a would-be game-winner in overtime found everything on the rim but the middle.
“I thought she played really well,” Hall said of Ramey, who finished with eight points and nine rebounds. “She’s a really good athlete and can compete with other good athletes like we saw tonight.”
Ramey wasn’t the only one keeping up with the high athletic Lady Raiders (17-9), as Marissa Ivey, Kayla Robles, Kayla Tithof and Tavia Sykes all played a role in disrupting the opposing offense and forcing overtime. Sykes was key on offense early and made four of her first five shots, including two 3-pointers, en route to a 13-point, six-rebound performance.
“Flowery Branch is a good team,” said Mays coach Natasha Harrigan, whose team plays Douglas County on Tuesday. “They work hard and are well-coached, and we knew we had to come in and play well.”
Both teams played well early and combined for 34 points in the first quarter, but the tempo slowed down to Flowery Branch’s pace as the game went along. By the time the fourth quarter came around, both teams were in their half-court offense and looking for the best possible shot.
That patience on offense led to Flowery Branch shooting 4 of 7 in the fourth quarter to tie the game 43-43 at the end of regulation. Ware missed a 3-pointer as the second half ended, but she more than made up for it in overtime with her two steals that helped lead Mays to five made free throws.
“She’s been big for us all year,” said Harrigan, whose team held the Lady Falcons scoreless in overtime. “She’s a senior who’s going to leave it all on the floor.
“Tonight was her night.”
The Lady Falcons, who have no seniors on the roster, nearly took it away from her, but despite the disappointing loss, Hall knows her team exceeded expectations this year and their recent success will only lead to a bright future.
“I thought we played with a lot of poise and that we played a little older than we are,” Hall said. “As we continue to grow, that’s only going to get better.”
Flowery Branch’s season is now complete.