Save for the eight minutes that made up the second quarter, the Gainesville girls basketball team never showed the form Wednesday night that carried it to a strong finish this season and included third straight region championship.
Prior to Wednesday, the Lady Elephants had won 11 of their last 13 games, but frustrated by Franklin County on both ends of the floor, they fell 59-45 in the second round of the state playoffs on their home court.
The loss ends Gainesville’s season, as well as the high school careers of seniors Jaymee Carnes and Loren Thomas.
Carnes posted a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds, followed by Thomas with 10 points, but it wasn’t enough on a night when Franklin County (18-10) got the better of the Lady Elephants (19-11) on both ends of the floor.
“I thought they were quicker than us tonight,” Gainesville coach Manson Hill said. “Their quickness gave us trouble in both man-to-man and zone, and on offense they were able to chase down long rebounds and push the ball up the floor faster than we could get back.”
The Lady Elephants were able to keep pace during a second-quarter flurry that featured nine lead changes, and they went into the locker room at halftime with the scored tied at 22.
But Franklin County hit two quick 3-pointers early in the second half and began to pull away. By the end of the third quarter, they held a seven-point lead.
Franklin County slowed the game in the fourth quarter, and Brittney Wiley made sure Gainesville never got any closer, hitting 11 of 14 free throws in the final eight minutes.
Franklin County took wins in two of the three meetings with Gainesville this season. Hill hoped for a better showing in the final match-up, particularly after the Lady Elephants won by 11 on Feb. 10 in Gainesville.
“I thought we had more energy than they did in that game,” Hill said. “But for whatever reason, they had more than us tonight.”
From the start, Gainesville struggled to find an offensive rhythm, as Franklin County came out in a tightly played man-to-man defense and limited the Lady Elephants’ clean looks at the basket.
After a plodding first quarter, Thomas gave Gainesville a boost when she hit an NBA-range 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, cutting the Franklin County lead to 9-7.
The pace picked up in the second quarter.
Rebecca Webster, who finished with eight points, evened the score on a layup, and Gainesville took its first lead on Thomas’ second 3-pointer.
In the last 3:30 of the half, the teams swapped leads on nearly every possession before a Carnes jumper tied the game at 22 near the end of the quarter.
After Franklin County’s initial spurt to start the second half, Gainesville drew to as close as two points, but the Lady Lions ended the third quarter on a 7-2 run and never let the Lady Elephants threaten again.
Nonetheless, Hill couldn’t find fault with the effort of this team this year.
“We played the hardest schedule anybody in Hall County has ever played that I know of,” he said, “and we won 19 games and a region championship.
“I’m proud of our girls. We came together this year and grew up a lot in that locker room.”
Franklin County moves on to face the Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe/Carver-Columbus winner at 4 p.m. Saturday in Dalton.