When the majority of the Hall County schools moved from Region 7-AAA to 8-AAA this year, most believed their dominance in basketball would carry over to a new region.
Apparently they forgot about Franklin County.
Both teams from Franklin County advanced to the finals of the Region 8-AAA tournament Friday, with the Lady Lions defeating the top-seed from the north subregion, Chestatee, 44-33, and the Lions taking down Gainesville, 59-33.
“There’s a reason why they play for a region title every year,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said of Franklin County, which has reached the region championship game for the past seven years. “(Tonight)’s final should be a good one.”
The Lions (21-5) will face West Hall in the finals at 8 tonight at Chestatee.
The Lady Lions (18-10), who have won seven of the last 10 Region 8-AAA championships, will play the top-seed from the south subregion, Walnut Grove, who beat North Hall on Friday.
The Lady Trojans will open today’s slate of tournament games against Chestatee, a team that had title aspirations before it ran into Franklin County.
“We didn’t come to play tonight,” said Chestatee coach Web Daniel, whose team beat Franklin County twice this year. “It’s tough to play a team three times, and we knew they’d be tough.”
What Daniel didn’t know is how focused the Lady Lions would be on the defensive end of the floor. Franklin County forced 11 turnovers in the first quarter and a half to build a commanding 19-8 lead.
“The difference was our players,” Franklin County coach Holly Wilk said. “They played great defense, and that was the focus of the game.”
Wilk said another focus was to shut down Chestatee’s 3-point shooters, who missed 10 of their 14 attempts. Not only did Franklin County do a good job on the perimeter, but it also held Chestatee’s leading scorer Peyton Robertson to just nine points.
“We knew we were going to have to stop the 3 because that’s what they always go back to,” Wilk said. “We weren’t too focused on stopping Peyton because we knew we would have to give up something.
“You pick your battles with a team like Chestatee.”
That strategy paid off on multiple fronts, and combined with the amount of pressure the Lady Lions put on Chestatee’s young guards, there’s little question as to why they led by double digits for almost the entire game.
“We have young guards who played young,” Daniel said. “We noticed the adjustments they made, but we just played nervous tonight.”
Franklin County was led by Kortnee Goss, who finished with 14 points.
WALNUT GROVE GIRLS 54, NORTH HALL 46: The Lady Trojans couldn’t overcome a poor first half during their loss to the Lady Warriors on Friday during the Region 8-AAA tournament at Chestatee.
“I thought the kids would be ready to play, but we didn’t start well in the first half,” said North Hall coach Kristi House, whose team was outscored 14-7 after the first quarter and trailed by 11 at intermission. “We need to make better decisions, and we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to.”
North Hall (14-13) started to turn it around late in the third quarter when McKenna Rushton, who scored a game-high 17 points, hit a 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the period to trim the deficit to nine. Mary Kate Rushton scored 10 points for the Lady Trojans.
Walnut Grove (26-1) didn’t let North Hall get any closer thanks to the play of Gia Banks and Miaya Crowder, who combined to score 30 of the team’s 54 points.
Crowder and Banks will have a chance to play for a region championship tonight against Franklin County, while North Hall will play in today’s consolation game against Chestatee that will decide which team is the No. 3 and No. 4 seed for the state playoffs.
“I hope they realize there’s still an opportunity,” House said of her team. “We can get out of the region with a better seed that will help us in the state tournament.”
WEST HALL BOYS 59, MONROE AREA 53: After losing the past two region championship games, the Spartans entered the 2010-11 season focused on winning the program’s first region title.
They’re one step closer to making that happen.
Shunquez Stephens scored a game-high 20 points, Jarquise Young added 15, and West Hall advanced to the Region 8-AAA championship game with a win over Monroe Area on Friday at Chestatee.
“This win was big because it gives us that home game next Saturday,” West Hall coach Warren Sellers said, referring to the opening round of the Class AAA state tournament. “We’ve proven we can come in second, now we want to see if we can win (a region title).”
The No. 2 Spartans (23-4) almost didn’t have that opportunity because of an 8-0 run by Monroe Area that got the Purple Hurricanes (20-8) within three points with 4:54 left in the fourth quarter.
Having blown big leads during the regular season, the Spartans didn’t waiver under the pressure, and reeled off five unanswered points to take a 51-43 lead a minute later.
“We knew they were going to make a run, “ Sellers said. “They came up with some big shots, and when that happens, you have to hunker down and get some stops and we were able to do that down the stretch.”
Sellers can thank his seniors for that.
FRANKLIN COUNTY BOYS 59, GAINESVILLE 33: Keshaun Mayfield scored a game-high 14 points, Kareem Butler added 13, and the Lions cruised past Gainesville on Friday to reach the Region 8-AAA championship game.
Fresh off a thrilling comeback win over North Hall on Thursday, the Red Elephants (17-8) showed fatigue by making only 2-of-14 3-point attempts through the first three quarters, scoring single digits in each frame.
“If I knew why we played so good at the start, I’d bottle it up and sell it,” said Franklin County coach Harry Marsh, whose team has won 15 straight, but lost twice earlier this year to Gainesville.
“Both teams are different than when we played earlier,” Cottrell said.
That was apparent Friday, as the Lions built a 16-point lead before halftime and continued the onslaught with a bevy of easy baskets in the second half.
Gainesville, which was led by Shaquan Cantrell’s eight points, never could get things going offensively and finished with its lowest point total of the season.