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Lanierland: Balanced effort nets title for North Hall girls
Gainesville High’s Kiara Mitchell, left, passes the ball away as she and North Hall’s McKenna Rushton scramble for possession during the second half of the Lady Trojans’ Lanierland Tournament championship game win at the Flowery Branch gymnasium.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Prior to Friday’s Lanierland girls championship game, North Hall coach Bryan Richerson had one message for his team: Play every defensive possession like it’s your last.

The Lady Trojans heeded his words, garnering five steals, holding Gainesville to just seven points in the second quarter and outrebounding the No. 2-ranked Lady Red Elephants 28-15 in their 65-53 win Friday in the title game of the 50th Annual Lanierland Basketball Tournament at Flowery Branch High.

“We played very hard on the defensive end,” said Richerson, who is in his second year at the helm of the North Hall program.
“I’m so proud of these girls, and they earned this title.”

North Hall came out strong not only in its triangle and 2 defense, but offensively as the Lady Trojans (6-0) took a 9-4 lead with back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomores McKenna Rushton and Taylor Swozowski.

An early 6-4 advantage by Gainesville (3-4) was its only lead of the game as North Hall used its defense to focus on stopping Gainesville senior Jaymee Carnes and junior Mikalyn DeFoor.

While both finished the game with 10 points, the defense worked to perfection in the first half as Carnes was held to four points and one rebound and DeFoor to five points.

“We knew we had to keep (Carnes) off the boards to have a shot,” Richerson said. “I designated Shakeyla Rucker, Taylor Bishop, Tiffany Hamilton and (Taylor) Swozowski to handle (the man-to-man part of the defense) and take away their weapons, and it worked for us.”

The other players on Gainesville’s team responded, however, as Loren Thomas scored nine of her game-high 21 points in the first half to keep her team within striking distance.

The Lady Red Elephants pulled within two points at the end of the first quarter — the closest they would get for the duration of the game — but the Lady Trojans’ lone senior, Taylor Bishop, kept Gainesville at bay hitting two-straight 3-pointers to start the second quarter.

North Hall outscored Gainesville 10-2 to start the period and took its first double-digit lead at 29-19 with four mintues remaining in the half on two free throws by Swozowski.

The sophomore point guard not only finished as the team’s leading scorer with 17 points, but as the recipient of the C.W. Davis MVP award for the tournament.

“It’s awesome,” said Swozowski of winning Lanierland. “Gainesville never went away, which we knew they wouldn’t. They play until the buzzer sounds. But we knew if we kept playing hard defensively, we’d win.

“Our girls down low stepped up on the boards and we tried not to give them too many open looks from outside, and luckily it worked in our favor tonight.”

The Lady Trojans were balanced on offense and had 10 assists on the night, not allowing Gainesville to focus on one player.
Mary Kate Rushton, McKenna Rushton and Sarah Paschall each finished with 12 points for North Hall.

Mary Kate and McKenna, along with Rucker, also combined for 19 of the team’s rebounds.

“When you have four or five people that can score, it’s hard to focus on one player,” Richerson said. “We’ve moved the ball well this year and we’re very unselfish as a team because we just want to win ball games.”

The never-say-die Lady Red Elephants started the fourth quarter on a 6-2 run, pulling within seven points with four minutes to go in the game on a putback by Carnes.

As was the case for the game, however, North Hall — namely Swozowski — responded when Swozowski stole the ball at halfcourt and raced the other way for a layup to put her team up by nine.

The win marks the second time in three years the Lady Trojans have won Lanierland.

“Gainesville is a traditionally great team and they’re nothing short of that this year,” Richerson said. “But we came out and stuck to our gameplan and I’m so proud of these girls.”
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