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Gainesville boys and girls, Flowery Branch girls fall in 8-AAAAA semifinals
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CONYERS — Hall County rivals Flowery Branch and Gainesville’s girls basketball teams are getting the fourth matchup of the season they anticipated could be coming.

The one problem is it won’t be on the stage they were hoping for after the Lady Falcons fell 52-47 to Salem and the Lady Red Elephants dropped a 49-44 overtime battle against Loganville in Region 8-AAAAA semifinals at Salem High on Friday.

“We were hoping it was going to be both of us in the final game,” Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said. “But it didn’t work out like that.”

Gainesville and Flowery Branch will match up at 3 p.m. today at Salem High for the third playoff seed out of Region 8-AAAAA. The Red Elephants won the teams’ first two matchups, including the Lanierland championship, before the Falcons earned a 59-36 victory on Jan. 27 in Flowery Branch.

North No. 2 seed Gainesville was on the verge of punching its ticket to the 8-AAAAA finals when Breana Fair’s putback gave the Red Elephants a 39-37 edge with 22 seconds left in regulation.

But Loganville’s Daijah Cousins sank two free throws with 6.4 seconds left to tie the contest, and the Red Devils blocked Shikiya Brown’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Loganville, the South No. 1 seed, built a 45-41 edge in overtime before Kaysey Smith’s 3-pointer from the top of the key cut it to 45-44 with a little more than a minute remaining in overtime. After the Red Devils’ Imani Arnold split two free throws, Gainesville couldn’t collect the rebound and Schekinah Bimpa’s putback made it 48-44.

The Red Elephants wouldn’t score again.

“Our kids have got a lot of fight,” Hill-Gilmore said. “They don’t ever give up. We try to teach ‘refuse to lose.’ But they’ve got to understand we’ve got to finish the drill and execute, no matter how tired you feel.”

Gainesville jumped to a 16-9 lead in the first 31 seconds of the second quarter before not scoring again until the third quarter.

The Red Elephants also were part of a bizarre ending to the first half. With 4.4 seconds to go in the second quarter, officials assessed a technical foul to the Red Elephants’ Taylor Hawks for stepping to the free throw line when it should have been one of her teammates at the line.

The technical was called after Hawks missed the first free throw, and Loganville made one of its two technical free throws and hit another pair of free throws with 0.5 seconds left in the half for a 19-16 lead at the half.

Hill-Gilmore said the officials should have put the correct shooter on the line instead of calling a technical foul.

Hawks paced Gainesville (19-8) with 14 points, and Smith added 11 points. They also connected on a key play late in regulation as Hawks dished to Smith for a layup and a 37-36 lead with 1:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. Smith scored seven of her points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Arnold led Loganville with 18 points.

The Red Devils will take on Salem at 6 p.m. today for the 8-AAAAA title.

SALEM GIRLS 52, FLOWERY BRANCH 47: The North No. 1 seed Lady Falcons (21-4) pushed their lead to 44-37 on Julianne Sutton’s jumper with 3:53 remaining. But Flowery Branch didn’t connect on another field goal until Lexie Sengkhammee’s layup with about five seconds left.

The Lady Seminoles scored 14 of their 24 fourth-quarter points at the free throw line.

“We fouled way too much,” Flowery Branch coach Hazel Hall said.

Ayana Mitchell paced South No. 2 seed Salem with 30 points, and Shay Tarver poured in 12 of her 18 points for the Seminoles in the final eight minutes.

Flowery Branch methodically worked back from a 16-12 deficit to lead 19-18 at halftime, 27-21 in the third quarter and eventually 44-37 before the Seminoles’ game-closing 15-3 spurt.

“We wanted to play a little faster because we felt like they were getting tired,” Hall said.

Breanna Locke’s 12 points led Flowery Branch, with Sutton pitching in 10. Locke connected on three 3-pointers.

“We’re a little nervous still because it’s new,” Hall said. “But I thought we played really hard, but we just didn’t get it done.”

CEDAR SHOALS BOYS 67, GAINESVILLE 57: The Red Elephants appeared to be gaining separation with five points in the first 40 seconds of the third quarter, as Xavier Bledson’s 3-pointer gave Gainesville a 37-30 edge.

That’s when the Jaguars roared to life, scoring the next 11 points for a 41-37 lead. Jermaine Fleming’s 3-pointer briefly stopped Cedar Shoals’ momentum and cut the Elephants’ deficit to 41-40.

“They’re a veteran team,” Gainesville coach Benjie Wood said. “And they played like a veteran team.”

Gainesville would never tie it or lead again, though. After trailing by as much as seven points in the fourth, the Red Elephants cut it to 54-52 on three D’Marcus Simonds free throws with 6:08 left, then pulled within 60-57 on Bledson’s trey with 1:47 to go.

But an old-fashioned three-point play from D’andre Mahaffey with a little more than a minute remaining pushed it to 63-57 and helped Cedar Shoals pull away.

Wood said he was proud of his team, which at one point had three freshmen and two sophomores on the court.

“They’re fighting their tails off,” Wood said. “We just came up a little short.”

He said he’s encouraged by the effort of his younger players being pushed into leadership roles.

“Those guys are doing a great job, really proud of them,” Wood said. “Let me say this: The future looks bright for Gainesville High School.”

Mahaffey led the Jaguars with 22 points, with Phlandrous Fleming chipping in 16 and Jerrick Mitchell adding 13.

Simonds paced Gainesville with a 22-point effort, and Jermaine Fleming pitched in 12.

The Red Elephants (24-3) will face Apalachee at 4:30 p.m. today for the third playoff seed from 8-AAAAA. Apalachee won 87-83 against Gainesville on Jan. 16 in Winder, and the Red Elephants returned the favor, 66-65, on Bledson’s game-winning shot Feb. 3 in Gainesville.

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