It’s an old sports cliché’ that big-time players play big in big games, but during the opening round of the Region 7-AAA girls basketball tournament Thursday, two of the area’s best proved that to be true.
Flowery Branch senior Jessica Harper scored a game-high 27 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and had five steals to lead the Lady Falcons (14-9) to a 63-46 win over Gilmer in the tournament’s first game at Gainesville High.
In the nightcap, Gainesville’s Jaymee Carnes was equally as impressive, scoring 15 points, with 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in just three quarters of the Lady Red Elephants’ 53-30 win over White County.
Those two performances propelled the Lady Falcons and Lady Red Elephants (15-10) into the second round where they will play Chestatee and Pickens, respectively. Pickens (20-6) advanced to the second round after defeating West Hall 47-28 in the second of three games at Gainesville.
In Flowery Branch’s win, it was all Harper, as the senior scored 12 of her team’s 21 first-quarter points and Flowery Branch built a 10-point lead it would not relinquish. Harper, who finished with five 3-pointers on the night, helped the Lady Falcons stave off a Gilmer comeback in the third quarter by hitting a 3 after the Lady Bobcats cut the deficit to nine points.
“She has that kind of ability,” Flowery Branch coach Hazel Hall said of Harper. “If she doesn’t do what she did, the game is really close.”
At one point in the third it was close, and Hall saw a large lead shrink to just eight points.
“We just fouled them too much,” she said, referring to the 18 free throws Gilmer shot in the second and third quarter combined. “If they don’t score from the line, they were going to have a difficult time scoring.”
Especially since Flowery Branch controlled the boards to the tune of a 30-22 rebounding edge. Harper’s 11 rebounds led the way, but the Lady Falcons also got eight rebounds from Tavia Sykes.
Hall knows that edge in rebounding might not happen in the next round against the much-taller Lady War Eagles (20-4).
“We’re going to have to limit their post players, especially (Peyton) Robertson,” Hall said. “We’re going to have to get up in their face and pressure their ball handlers.”
That’s the methodology she used against Gilmer, which translated to 23 forced turnovers and 14 steals.
“We feel like we’re more athletic than most of the people we play,” Hall said. “We have to force turnovers if we want to win.”
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 53, WHITE COUNTY 30: Gainesville coach Manson Hill got just what he wanted in the first-round win: a solid performance by his starters and a big enough lead to get them some rest.
After the Lady Red Elephants built a 33-10 lead going into halftime, Hill rested his starters in hopes that it will benefit the team in the tournament.
“We got our chance to get our feet wet and get our starters some rest so they’ll be fresh Saturday,” Hill said. “I liked our intensity, and I thought we played good early and that fueled everything.”
That start was keyed by great shooting, as the Lady Red Elephants shot 61 percent from the field in the first half.
Hill knows his team will need that type of shooting in the second round against Pickens.
“The fact that they won 20 games bothers me,” Hill said of the Lady Dragons. “They have two great post players and two great wings; I think it’s going to be a real interesting game.”
Jayne Whitfield scored 14 points to lead the Lady Warriors (4-20), whose season is now complete.
PICKENS GIRLS 47, WEST HALL 28: Jazmine Gross scored 19 points and Lindsey Hammontree added 16 to lead the Lady Dragons past West Hall on Thursday in Gainesville.
Bailey Soucie made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points for West Hall (6-20).
West Hall’s season is now complete.