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Gainesville girls complete comeback against rival Flowery Branch, 43-37
Sophomore Hawks scores 18 for Lady Red Elephants in region win
Flowery Branch player Heather Moore looks for a teammate to pass to while being guarded by Gainesville player Tanai Watson during the Gainesville vs. Flowery Branch girls basketball game at Gainesville High School on Friday. Gainesville won 43-37. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The fire of rivalry burns as bright as ever, according to Gainesville sophomore Taylor Hawks.

Ten days after edging Flowery Branch in the Lanierland title game, the Red Elephants guard said her team felt motivated to prove the win wasn’t a “fluke.”

For Gainesville, it was mission accomplished.

Hawks scored 18 points for Gainesville (10-5, 5-2 Region 8-AAAAA) on Friday in a 43-37 home win that handed Flowery Branch its first region loss of the season and kept the Red Elephants squarely in the hunt for the postseason.

“It was a huge game for us,” she said. “We felt we were battling against everyone, so this feels really good.”

The Lady Falcons (12-3, 5-1) led for over three quarters until junior Shikiya Brown (9 points) and Breana Fair combined for back-to-back 3-pointers and a 39-37 advantage with less than two minutes to go. The Lady Red Elephants then held the Lady Falcons scoreless for the final 1:50 while combining for 10 unanswered points of their own to secure Gainesville’s fifth straight win.

Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said her team didn’t try to change its approach after the recent victory.

“Our defense won it for us today,” she said. “It really got us the momentum because they had the momentum for three and a half quarters. It just came down to making the right shots at the right time.”

Gainesville harried the visitors early in the opening stages and crept out to a 5-0 lead within the first three minutes.

The Lady Red Elephants harried the Lady Falcons on an occasional full-court press and found success when Hawks ran free for an easy layup after forcing a turnover by Flowery Branch’s Lexie Sengkhammee in the backcourt.

But the Lady Falcons started attacking Gainesville’s paint and shooting from short distance to great effect. Flowery Branch reeled off five straight layups before junior Breanna Locke added seven of her nine points to give the Lady Falcons a 22-17 halftime advantage.

“We just didn’t come out with the right intensity at first,” Hawks said. “Coach had to talk to us at half and told us to calm down, and we took it from there.”

Hawks, who had scored just six points in the first half, finally caught fire to tally nine of Gainesville’s 11 third-quarter points. That cut the Falcons’ lead to three before junior Kayla Kelly opened the fourth with consecutive jumpers.

Flowery Branch struggled to cling to its one-point lead and gave away three possessions on inbounds passes in the fourth quarter. The turnovers allowed Hawks to earn three trips to the foul line before finding Fair wide open on the right wing for an important trey with 1:50 left in the game.

“It looked like we just panicked,” Lady Falcons coach Hazel Hall said. “We gave it away, we didn’t take our time, and it hurt us.”

Hawks and Brown combined to make four free throws in the closing seconds and earn a win that will embolden Gainesville’s shot at a region title. The Lady Red Elephants will play East Hall today at 6 p.m. at home, while the Lady Falcons will take on Winder-Barrow next Tuesday in Winder.

“We knew we had beaten (Flowery Branch) before, so we knew they’d come at us harder this time,” Fair said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game.”

GAINESVILLE 77, FLOWERY BRANCH 54: Gainesville scored 23 points in the second quarter to overtake and ultimately rout rival Flowery Branch on Friday night in Gainesville.

Twelve different Red Elephants scored in the one-sided victory, including Luke Maddox, who led the team with 16 points.

It took a team effort to down a sprightly Flowery Branch side (9-8, 3-4 Region 8-AAAAA), which must now turn around to play a non-region home game against Mountain View today at 4 p.m.

The Falcons leapt out to a quick 10-2 lead before Maddox and K.J. Buffen (12 points) combined to score the team’s opening 16 points. Maddox tied the game at 16-all on a free throw after converting a layup in the paint.

Gainesville (14-1, 6-0) played without leading scorer D’Marcus Simonds (5 points) for the entire first half and the majority of the third quarter.

But the Red Elephants didn’t need their leading scorer, as they held Flowery Branch to just nine points in the second quarter before opening up a 16-point lead by the end of third.

John Mills led the Falcons with 25 points while Trey Bailey chipped in 10.

Gainesville won’t have much time to enjoy its win, as the team will play East Hall today at home with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

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