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Flowery Branch girls overpower Lithia Springs, advance to second round of Class AAAAA tournament
Lady Falcons (28-1) will next host Northside-Columbus for chance at quarterfinals
Flowery Branch's Julianne Sutton puts up a shot over Lithia Springs' Ayanna Dinkins (4) and Terra Fullore (22) on Tuesday in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs at Flowery Branch High. - photo by Jared Putnam

Taniyah Worth wouldn’t give herself any undue praise, but the sophomore understood what her play meant to Flowery Branch on the first day of her team’s Class AAAAA playoffs campaign.

“I would say I stepped up a little,” said Worth, following Flowery Branch’s 58-50 home win over Lithia Springs in the first round of the state tournament.

Flowery Branch, which is riding a 12-game winning streak, will next host Northside-Columbus Friday in the second round. Tip-off time is yet to be determined.

Worth led the Lady Falcons (28-1) with 19 points and eight rebounds, including seven unanswered points in a critical stretch during the first quarter where Flowery Branch shot out to a 10-point lead and never looked back.

Lithia Springs cut the deficit to six (23-17) at halftime, but couldn’t muster up the shots necessary to threaten Flowery Branch’s advantage.

With the win, the Lady Falcons secured their first state playoff victory since 2010.

Julianne Sutton (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Maddie Hetzel (8 points) were among the high scorers for the Lady Falcons. Flowery Branch has already secured its first region title in program history and its first Lanierland title since 2003.

“It was an ugly game all around,” said Falcons coach Courtney Newton. “We won, and we’re happy about that, but I think the excitement of winning region was still in their heads. I was hoping we would play better defense late in the game.”

Kiana Johnson (19 points) spurred the Lady Lions (16-14) to a 7-0 run late in the fourth, but Worth sank three foul shots that maintained the gap.

Arit Asanga (9 points) scored two field goals for Lithia Springs.

“We got everything in shots we could have asked for,” said Lions coach David Mills. “It’s the little things that allow you to move on in the state tournament. (Flowery Branch) was a team tonight that had all of those little things working for them.”

The visitors opened up a 5-4 lead within the game’s first minute, but Worth and Sutton combined for a 12-0 streak as the Lady Falcons closed out the first quarter.

Worth later spurred the first of back-to-back breakaway layups when she forced a steal at halfcourt, then flushed a basket on the other end. The next layup was through Kierra Knight (6 points, 6 boards), who received an outlet pass from Queen Scott to open up the game’s first 15-point advantage.

“Taniyah got back to what she’s been doing this year for us,” said Newton. “She was attacking the basket confidently, which is what we love to see her do.”

Lithia Springs shot out to 6-0 and 7-0 runs near the end of the third and fourth quarters, something Newton said her team would need to rectify as Friday’s second-round matchup looms.

“She was telling us that this is getting serious,” said Worth of Newton’s post-game notes. “If we lose one game, it’ll all be over.”

Flowery Branch has made the state quarterfinals just once in school history (2003), when Newton was a freshman standout for the Lady Falcons. Flowery Branch’s senior class has never played a second-round state playoff game.

“It’s been super important for all of us as seniors,” said Hetzel. “We talk about it all the time. We talk about getting a fifth championship, after winning four tournaments so far this season. We’re taking it one game at a time.”

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