With a chance to clinch the Gainesville girls’ first Lanierland championship since 2008, Taylor Hawks came through — just as she had all night long.
The Lady Red Elephants’ talented freshman guard knocked down all four of her free throw attempts in the final minute of play to boost her game-high scoring total to 32 points, and the Lady Red Elephants held on for a 57-50 victory over North Hall in the championship round on Saturday at Lakeview Academy.
Hawks, who was named the tournament’s MVP after the game, scored at least seven points in each period.
“(I) just (wanted to) come out here and play big for my team ... get key players big shots and just step up really big,” Hawks said.
“My teammates trusted me. When (North Hall) fell back I’d just knock the jumper down. If it (the lane) was open for me I’d go drive and penetrate and kick off.”
Paisley Lee (11 points) was also in double figures for Gainesville. Sydney Cleveland (17 points) and Sadie Cleveland (15) led the Lady Trojans in scoring.
North Hall was ahead 13-10 at the end of the first quarter and remained within reach of Gainesville throughout the game, but the Lady Trojans were never able to regain the lead after the Lady Red Elephants used pinpoint outside shooting to produce an 11-0 run in the second quarter.
Gainesville hit three 3-pointers during that stretch, including two by Hawks, and Tanai Watson capped it off with a long jumper to put Gainesville ahead 23-15.
The Lady Red Elephants maintained that eight-point advantage, 27-19, going into halftime.
“I think that’s a big part of our team winning,” Gainesville coach Brenda Gilmore said of the outside shooting.
“We’re going to take some threes ... and our kids are confident that they’re going to hit some shots. They never let their heads down and we always believe we can overcome a lot of obstacles.”
Gainesville held North Hall scoreless for the first three minutes of the third period and padded the lead to 30-19. The cushion proved important when Gainesville experienced its own offensive struggles midway through the period.
The Lady Red Elephants were unable to score on five consecutive possessions, four of which resulted in turnovers, and North cut it to a two-possession game.
Hawks, who was on the bench for part of that lull, broke the drought with a running shot in the lane and added another near the end of the quarter to put Gainesville ahead 38-30 going into the final period.
“At times we may go down the court and not score three or four times (in a row) and we understand that, it’s part of playing the game,” Gilmore said.
“We were just trying to be patient in our offense and get them to spread the floor so we could get some opportunities, possibly get to the basket ... or penetrate and kick to one of our 3-point shooters."
The Lady Trojans cut their deficit to 43-41 — the smallest it had been since midway through the second quarter — on a pair of free throws by Katie Sayres with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter. Breana Fair then delivered her first points of the night in the best possible fashion, knocking down a 3-pointer to boost Gainesville’s lead back to five points.
Gainesville maintained a two-possession lead or more the rest of the way, and Hawks hit her last two free throws with 29.1 seconds remaining to put the lead at 57-50.
North Hall turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, and the Lady Red Elephants avoided the Lady Trojans attempts to foul and ran the final 16 seconds off the clock.
“This is almost like playing in a state championship game down in Macon,” Gilmore said of the atmosphere of the game, which was played in front of a capacity crowd.
“It was a great turnout; Hall County is a great place to play basketball.”
CHESTATEE GIRLS 65, LAKEVIEW ACADEMY 52: Bridgette Kelly scored a career-best 33 points, including 21 in the first half, as the Lady War Eagles finished third in the girls bracket. Kelly hit five 3-pointers and was 14 of 19 from the free-throw line.
Chestatee, which won a Lanierland title last season, enjoyed a 39-21 lead at halftime but found itself up by only eight midway through the fourth quarter after a 17-6 Lakeview run. The Lady Lions were held scoreless thereafter. Kayla Watson reached double figures for the Lady War Eagles with 11.
Lakeview, which finishes fourth, was led by Hanna Grogan’s 19 points.
EAST HALL GIRLS 42, FLOWERY BRANCH 39: Ashlyn Ellison and Jatasia Bailey each scored 10 points as the Lady Vikings held off a fourth-quarter surge by the Lady Falcons in the fifth-place game.
East Hall led 35-19 through three quarters, overcoming a 20-point Flowery Branch fourth. Natalie Winters provided nine points for the Lady Vikings on three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
The Lady Falcons, last year’s Lanierland runner-up, were led by Julianne Sutton’s 12 points and Maddie Hetzel’s 10.
WEST HALL GIRLS 54, JOHNSON 35: Macy Passmore’s 15 points fueled the Lady Spartans to a seventh-place finish in Saturday’s morning game.
Maia Caldwell-Booker added 10 for West Hall, and Mia McKensey provided nine.
The Lady Spartans enjoyed a 31-12 lead at halftime.
Sarah Williams led Johnson with 18 points, converting four 3-pointers.