Meeting early in the Region 8-AAA tournament, it was unfortunately a win-or-go-home situation for Gainesville and Franklin County — two girls programs rich in state playoff tradition.
Both the Lady Red Elephants and Lady Lions were stubborn when it came to deciding whose season would end, but in the end Franklin County edged Gainesville 51-43 in triple overtime on Tuesday at Chestatee High.
With the win, the Lady Lions (17-10) advance to the region semifinals to play Chestatee on Friday. The Lady War Eagles dismantled Johnson 48-21 following the Franklin County-Gainesville thriller. Also, Franklin County clinched a state playoff spot of the 13th consecutive season, all coming under 15-year coach Holly Wilk.
The Lady Red Elephants (14-12), on the other hand, will miss state for the first time in 14 seasons under Manson Hill, who just completed his 22nd season at Gainesville.
“It was two programs that are consistently good and neither of us wanted to go home,” Hill said. “It was incredible. It was one of the greatest games I’ve ever been involved in. Someone had to lose, and I’m proud of our team and the resilience they showed. I thought we played with incredible heart, and they played with incredible heart.”
In the final overtime, the Lady Lions jumped to a 46-43 lead and went back to a game-plan they used toward the end of regulation — holding the ball for minutes at a time to milk a marginal lead. After holding the ball for nearly a minute, Shakara Little came up big with a 3-pointer that gave Franklin County a 49-43 lead with 55 seconds remaining, essentially ending a game that at times appeared as though it would still be going on today.
“I was determined not to go home,” said Little, who finished with 10 points, including three 3-pointers. “We never lost our focus, we didn’t want to go home, we didn’t give up and we’re going (to state).”
Gainesville rallied in the fourth quarter and the first and second overtime periods to tie the game.
Kate Callahan — who eventually fouled out with 1:12 remaining in the fourth — tied the game at 31 with two free throws with 2:56 left, the final points before regulation ended.
With the Lady Red Elephants trailing 36-33 in the first overtime, a heavily-defended Rebecca Webster penetrated, stepped back, then drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key with five seconds left to extend the game.
“In my mind, I knew I was taking the shot,” said Webster, a junior who scored a team-high 18 points. “I shoot some crazy shots in practice just playing around and I felt like that came in tonight. I saw the goal and I didn’t worry about who was in front of me and just shot it.”
In the second overtime, Gainesville got four points from reserve Kynika Coleman in the final minute, and her basket with 15 seconds gave the Lady Red Elephants a 43-41 lead with 15 seconds left. But Kat Wynn, who had a game-high 20 points, responded with a layup with six seconds left to send the game to a third and final overtime.
“Going home never crossed our minds, because we had our mind set on winning,” said Wynn.
Gainesville opened the game with an 11-4 run to close the first quarter, looking nothing like the team that lost 38-18 to Franklin County in the last meeting between the two on Dec. 17.
On Wednesday, the Lady Lions used a physical defense, led by Wynn’s six steals, to force Gainesville out of its rhythm. Franklin County took its first lead at 21-20 with five minutes left in the third, and eventually extended the lead to 26-20, completing a 16-2 run going back to the first half.
“That’s pretty much how our team is,” Wilk said. “Our offense is definitely keyed off our defense, because we’re a good defensive team.”
Once the Lady Lions took their first lead, they never trailed again.
Mikalyn DeFoor had 10 points, including three 3-pointers for Gainesville. Jacquie Williams-Perry had eight points and 13 rebounds for Franklin County.
CHESTATEE GIRLS 48, JOHNSON 21: The Lady War Eagles (22-4) put on a clinic against the Lady Knights (15-12), making 14 of their 15 free throws, including their first 11. They also drilled a plethora of 3-pointers, including two each from Erin Clifford and Emily Crain. But it was Peyton Robertson who stole the show, scoring 25 points — 17 in the first half — and making 9 of 10 free throws.
Caitlin Sloan scored a team-high six points for the Lady Knights, whose season come to an end.