It wasn’t a high-scoring affair, but the Gainesville girls’ basketball team found points when it came time to win.
Capped off by Taylor Hawks’ go-ahead basket with 18 seconds remaining in the game, the Lady Red Elephants edged Flowery Branch 37-36 on Friday, slipping past their Hall County rival after trailing for almost the entire contest.
Hawks’ game-saving basket, an arcing shot from just inside the 3-point line, confirmed a turnaround fourth quarter for Gainesville (18-4, 11-2 Region 8-AAAAA) by outscoring the Lady Falcons 16-10 and rallying from a five-point deficit to start the quarter.
“The momentum kind of changed the last two or three minutes of the ball game,” Lady Red Elephants coach Brenda-Hill Gilmore said. “We take pride in our defense, and I was telling our girls to turn the defensive intensity up a little bit higher.”
Prior to the final 18 seconds of the game, Flowery Branch (11-10, 8-5) had played a slight step ahead of Gainesville for most of the night, leading by one at halftime and 27-22 heading into the final period.
A solid momentum shift finally came the Lady Red Elephants’ way with an 8-0 run midway through fourth, tying the game at 31 apiece with 3:24 to play.
Flowery Branch continued to battle with baskets by Kylah Mize and Julianne Sutton, but Gainesville answered every score with one of its own, remaining behind by one with Kayla Kelly’s basket and a minute left to play.
Hawks took care of the rest. Her last tally of a team-best nine points proved to be the most important score of the game.
“I prayed she hit it,” Hill-Gilmore said.
“She’s one of those kids that can handle the pressure, whether she misses it or makes it. She has some really good teammates that have really encouraged her to take that role.”
Flowery Branch’s final chance to tie the game was a free throw by Heather Moore with 5.8 seconds left, which bounced off the rim.
The Lady Red Elephants’ win keeps them in solid seeding position for the Region 8-AAAAA Tournament, which begins after their final regular-season game on Feb. 7 against Salem.
With three games until the tournament, Hill-Gilmore isn’t letting a relatively young lineup be an excuse anymore. With wins like Friday’s, when a freshman scored a game-saving basket in the final minute, those days appear to be over.
“We didn’t execute very well at times, defensively or offensively,” said Hill-Gilmore, whose team only practiced once this week due to the winter weather that swept through Hall County earlier this week. “Part of that is due to youth, but we’re 22 games in, and there’s no excuse for inexperience anymore.”
Despite the loss, Flowery Branch should still remain in the middle of the pack for the region tournament. The Lady Falcons entered the game tied with Clarke Central for third in the standings.
They made things easy on themselves with a quality first half. They never trailed through two quarters, despite being held to just a pair of field goals in the second quarter. Gainesville tied the game twice in the first, but were never able to take the lead away from the Lady Falcons.
The Lady Red Elephants evened the game at eight with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter. A basket and a successful and-one by Mize gave Flowery Branch an 11-8 lead through one.
Gainesville narrowed the gap by outscoring the Lady Falcons 6-4 in the second quarter, but continued to trail 15-14 at halftime.
Mize was Flowery Branch’s leading scorer with 12 points and the only player with double figures in the game. Breanna Locke provided 10 rebounds for the Lady Falcons.
GAINESVILLE BOYS 67, FLOWERY BRANCH 52: Luke Maddox scored a team-high 24 points and Rodney Lackey added 15 as the Red Elephants held off the Falcons in a region showdown that only got tighter as the night went by.
Gainesville (13-9, 6-7 Region 8-AAAAA) enjoyed sizeable leads through the first three quarters, but Flowery Branch battled to within six, 46-40, after three.
A five-point run by Tyler Kriews in the fourth put the Falcons (3-17, 1-12) down by just three early in the fourth. It was as close as they would get, as Maddox scored nine points in Gainesville’s 13-2 run to close out the game.
Cody Dewing led Flowery Branch with 14 points and eight rebounds. Hunter Konuszewski scored 11 and Taylor Bourdage chipped in 10.