Hazel Hall wanted to speed Gainesville up.
After her Flowery Branch girls basketball team had dropped 45-43 and 43-37 games to the Lady Red Elephants earlier this season, the coach implored her players to push the tempo Tuesday night.
Four quarters of precise execution and relentless attacking later, the Lady Falcons took control of the Region 8-AAAAA race with a 59-36 home victory against their Hall County rival. They improved to 18-3 overall and 10-1 in region play.
“We wanted them to play faster than they normally play, because that’s the way we like to play,” Hall said. “We’d rather play fast. We don’t do well slow.”
The Gainesville boys won 78-55 in the nightcap.
Flowery Branch’s girls broke an 11-all tie with an 8-0 run in the final 1:45 of the opening quarter. The edge was never fewer than six points the rest of the way for the Falcons.
It was 33-23 by halftime, and following an 8-2 start to the third quarter, the margin grew to 41-25. Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said everything changed from the teams’ first two matchups, which were in the Dec. 30 Lanierland championship and a Jan. 9 region contest.
“They were shooting the lights out,” Hill-Gilmore said. “They played great defense, and they were on point.”
Eight players scored for Flowery Branch, which fed off its defensive pressure and ability to get to the basket.
“We’re super excited,” Falcons junior Breanna Locke said. “We were going crazy in the locker room afterward.”
Kierra Knight scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the first half for the Falcons, while Locke and Julianne Sutton each poured in 11 points. All 11 of Sutton’s points came in the second half.
“We had to challenge her a little bit,” said Hall of Sutton, her 6-foot-1 sophomore. “She’s the biggest player on the floor, and she can’t let little people dictate what she does. And I thought she did a really good job of making some big baskets for us in the second half.”
Maddie Hetzel added eight points for Flowery Branch.
Heather Moore made a sharp back door cut to the basket, took a pass from Taniyah Worth and scored a wide-open layup in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the night, Hetzel pulled up for a short jumper instead of a contested layup. Both were instances of the Falcons’ uncanny ability to find scoring openings.
“We executed really well,” Hall said. “I thought our plan was good.”
Taylor Hawks scored 12 of her game-high 16 points at the free throw line for Gainesville (15-7, 8-3), and Breana Fair chipped in seven points for the Red Elephants.
Hill-Gilmore said her team suffered from poor shot selection, trying too often to shoot over post players.
“Like I told our girls in the locker room, we didn’t play well and they played extremely well,” Hill-Gilmore said. “And we’ve got to get back in the gym and work on us.”
Flowery Branch hosts Winder-Barrow on Friday before welcoming Lanier in its Feb. 6 regular-season finale, and Gainesville visits East Hall on Saturday.
“They’ve kind of exceeded my expectations for this year because they’ve played really well together and they’ve worked really hard,” Hall said.
GAINESVILLE BOYS 78, FLOWERY BRANCH 55: Bailey Minor scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help the Red Elephants fend off a resilient Falcons team.
“I was proud of our kids for continuing to just come at them,” Gainesville coach Benjie Wood said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is being relentless, and I thought our kids kept playing.”
Gainesville led 46-29 in the third quarter before Taylor Bourdage, who scored a game-high 19 points and hit five 3-pointers, helped Flowery Branch close within 55-45 early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Minor took over, helping the Red Elephants score the next 11 points.
D’Marcus Simonds poured in a team-high 18 points for Gainesville, which pushed its record to 20-2 overall and 10-1 in Region 8-AAAAA play. Jermaine Fleming added eight points for the Red Elephants.
John Mills tallied nine points and Hunter Konuszewski chipped in eight for the Falcons (11-11, 4-7).
Flowery Branch coach David Sokol said he was pleased with the way Bourdage and the rest of his guys battled against a deep, talented opponent.
“He’s got his confidence back, which is fantastic to see,” Sokol said. “When we get other guys involved in the offense and click on all cylinders and play some defense, I think we can compete with anyone we play.”