WINDER — The Gainesville boys basketball team has made sure a rough first month of the season didn’t cause problems later down the road.
Despite starting the year with a 3-6 record with several key players missing from the lineup while finishing up football season, the Red Elephants clicked with a completed roster and won the 2013 Region 8-AAAAA title by defeating Salem 72-61 in the championship game Saturday at Apalachee High.
The title is Gainesville’s first under coach Todd Cottrell, who couldn’t say enough about the quick turnaround his team made after their early-season struggles. The Red Elephants (19-9) won 16 of their last 19 games.
“From where they started to where they are now, I’m just proud of them,” Cottrell said. “That’s a tribute to them — they just kept believing, kept playing and kept working, and won the region.”
Gainesville opens the Class AAAAA State Tournament against the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAAAA on Wednesday at home.
Gainesville survived scares throughout the game, but never let Salem (16-12) ever gain a lead throughout the contest. The Seminoles used a 9-2 run in the fourth quarter to get within 66-61 with 2:47 left to play, but the Red Elephants didn’t allow another point the rest of the way. They closed out the game with an 8-0 run.
“I thought our guys played well defensively,” the coach said. “Offensively we were a little shaky, but defensively we were pretty good.”
The Red Elephants outscored Salem 20-14 in the fourth quarter, the biggest scoring margin in any period of the game. They were outscored by the Seminoles in the third, when the No. 2 seed from Conyers used a quick eight-point surge to cut their deficit to three with 2:45 to play in the third.
Shaquan Cantrell led Gainesville with 21 points. The region Player of the Year tallied 14 points in the first half as the Red Elephants jumped out to a 17-13 lead through one quarter of play.
One of the few current starters that played during the first month of the season, Cantrell scored another eight points in the second to give his team a 38-31 halftime lead. Deshaun Watson scored 17 points. Luke Moore led the Red Elephants’ second-half scorers with nine of his 15 points coming after halftime. Chase England added 11. Salem was led by Dedrick Turner’s 24 points.
CEDAR SHOALS GIRLS 54, FLOWERY BRANCH 38: The Lady Falcons secured the No. 4 seed from the region following their loss to the Lady Jaguars on Saturday.
Jacey Ramey and Tavia Sykes each scored nine points to lead Flowery Branch (23-5). Flowery Branch opens the state playoffs at Allatoona on Tuesday.