Class AAAA: Mays girls at Flowery Branch, 6 p.m.
Class AAA: Chestatee girls at LaGrange, 6 p.m.; North Hall girls at Carrollton, 6 p.m.
Class AA: East Hall girls at Buford, 7 p.m.; Union County at Greater Atlanta Christian, 7 p.m.
Class A: Mount Zion-Carroll at Towns County, 7 p.m.
FLOWERY BRANCH — It’s hard to wipe the smiles and looks of excitement off the faces of the Flowery Branch Lady Falcons. After all, they never thought they’d still be playing basketball.
After finishing the regular season with a 7-19 record, the Lady Falcons entered the Region 8-AAAA tournament losers of six of their last eight, but they reeled off three straight wins for the first time all year to advance to the championship game and earn a home game in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“We’re surprised to still be playing, but we got the best possible bracket we could have,” said coach Hazel Hall, whose team plays Mays at 6 p.m. Friday. “The kids executed the game plans perfectly and we had to do that to have a chance."
“I believe when it comes to the postseason, you have to get the kids prepared,” she added. “We were detailed in our preparation, and we probably didn’t do that during the regular season and that’s my fault.”
Lack of preparation wasn’t the only reason why the Lady Falcons (10-20) struggled throughout the regular season; youth played a major role in it too, as Flowery Branch doesn’t have a single senior on its roster.
“I always knew we could win, but we’re such a young team and started rough,” sophomore Dani Lacko said. “Sometimes we would get down, but we’d pull each other up because we’re all really close.
“All these girls are my best friends.”
The team’s chemistry and maturity on the court was evident during the region tournament when the Lady Falcons beat Heritage, Madison County and Loganville in three straight games.
“We settled down and started to think about all the little mistakes that cost us during the regular season,” sophomore Jacy Ramey said. “Everyone worked hard and didn’t quit.”
Flowery Branch will have to keep that mentality if it hopes to escape the first round. Despite being the No. 2 seed and hosting the game, the Lady Falcons are the underdog against Mays, and they wouldn’t want it any other way.
“That’s been our attitude for quite a while,” Hall said. “The pressure is on everyone else, and we had to embrace the underdog role and be excited about it.”
It worked during the region tournament, and even with their recent success, the Lady Falcons think their current hot streak has gone unnoticed.
“It’s kind of a good thing that we were the underdogs and showed up,” sophomore Kayla Robles said. “We’re just staying positive and working hard because we have nothing to lose.”
That’s a great outlook to have when faced with the task of beating Mays, which boasts a 6-foot-3 center Mariah Dean, who blocked 15 shots in a game earlier this year. As a part of her preparation, Hall had her assistant Will Howell pose as Dean during Thursday’s practice. What the Lady Falcons can’t plan for is the type of pressure they’ll face on offense.
“They really rely on pressure defense to create easy shots,” Hall said. “We’re always going to defend well, but that will be hard if they get steals and layups.”
To prevent that, Hall knows her young team, which is led by sophomore Tavia Sykes, will have to slow down the tempo of the game and remain under control.
Her players know that as well, but they admit it will be tough to curb their excitement.
“We have to calm down and keep our heads in the game,” Lacko said. “If we do that, we have a good chance at winning.”
Even if they don’t win, they know the end of this season will be a sign of what’s to come in the future.
“If we play sloppy, it’ll be disappointing to lose,” Ramey said. “But I’m glad we made it this far because it was unexpected.”