The dream stays alive for the Flowery Branch girls basketball team.
The Lady Falcons walked all over Marist in Friday’s Class 4A tournament second-round matchup, building up a double-digit lead halfway through the first quarter and running away with a 45-35 victory to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Flowery Branch will host the next round against the winner of Troup and Bainbridge next Tuesday or Wednesday evening.
The Lady Falcons pulled the upset despite struggling for much of the regular season, where they finished below .500 for the first time in nearly a decade.
But neither Flowery Branch’s 10-13 regular season mark, nor Marist’s 21-3 record mattered once the game started.
“We told them no matter what rankings are or what your record is, including ours, it’s about your story and it’s about what you believe.” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said.
The Lady Falcons got up early in the first quarter on Marist, never trailing at any point during the game. Shaina Kriews, who led Flowery Branch offensively with 20 points, got the scoring started with a quick layup on the opening possession, and the Lady Falcons held the lead from that point on.
Kriews, Morgan Aguilar and Bella Brick all hit on 3s in the opening four minutes of the game that put Flowery Branch up by 10 and forced the Lady War Eagles to take an early timeout.
“We just got in the gym and we were clicking at the right time, all of us,” Kriews said. “Just doing what we need to do, doing what our position is and getting it done.”
Kriews and Brick stayed hot from 3-point range, with each hitting another in the second quarter and Kriews putting together yet another 3-point play when she was fouled on a deep shot and sunk all three free throws. Defensively, Flowery Branch was even better, holding Marist to just four points in the second frame and taking a 16-point lead into halftime.
The Lady War Eagles could never make up any significant ground in the second half.
The teams battled back and forth for much of the third period, but Flowery Branch went on a quick run to push the lead all the way up to 20 with three minutes to go in frame.
Marist scored the last 5 points of the quarter to get back to within 15, but a Kriews 3-pointer early in the fourth extended the Lady Falcons advantage even further.
Marist made a bit of a run in the closing minutes of the game, using an aggressive full-court press to earn extra possessions late, but it was too little too late for the top-seeded Lady War Eagles, who never even got the game to within double-digits in the second half.
After the game, an emotional Newton-Gonzalez said this year’s playoff run has been particularly satisfying because the team’s recent loss of several star players has caused it to go from favorite to underdog, with outside doubt serving as fuel for the team.
“Any time you’ve had a successful program, everybody wants to see you fall and everybody wants to see you not do well,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “... We’ve preached to them this whole year that basketball is not a game of perfection, and neither is life and neither is the season. We have definitely had imperfect moments, but it’s about turning the page and believing in the moment now, and that’s what they’ve done.”