For Gainesville’s boys, everybody was throwing up five fingers after beating Cherokee Bluff 75-70 for the Lanierland championship Wednesday in Gainesville. It was a moment they were well prepared to celebrate and keenly aware of its significance — it was five in a row in the Hall County basketball tournament for the Red Elephants.
“This feels amazing,” Red Elephants senior Robert Reisman said. “My group of seniors is undefeated in Lanierland”.
Once the final whistle blew, all of the Gainesville players and coaches were all taking ample pictures with one another.
Players were also snapping videos on their cell phones.
And everyone for Gainesville had a smile from ear to ear.
The only thing missing was a packed house as fans were scant, due to coronavirus precautions set in place before Lanierland was played.
However, there wasn’t a Red Elephants player who felt lacking for support. Tournament rules allowed for each senior to have four people in attendance.
The few fans in the stands after the game ended were all cheering as loud as possible for the Red Elephants.
Gainesville (10-5) jumped to a double-digit lead with Eli Pitts’ 3-pointer late in the first quarter as it withstood a number of legitimate attempts at a rally by the Bears in the second half.
With the win, this year’s Gainesville program is just the fourth five-peat on the boys side in the 61-year-old tournament and the first for its program since 1979.
“I’m so happy for everyone of our seniors because a few months ago, we didn’t even know if we’d get this opportunity,” Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said. “Cherokee Bluff is a very talented, well-coached team. We knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Gainesville relied heavily on Reisman, who scored a game-high 29 points, which kept Cherokee Bluff from getting any closer than four points in the second half.
With a four-point lead late in the third period, Reisman knocked down a pair of free throws and made a basket the next trip down the floor for Gainesville.
He also made basket and drew a foul, then knocked down the free throw to make it a 59-51 lead in the final minute of the third quarter.
Every basket seemed necessary as Cherokee Bluff’s Dre Raven had a fantastic third quarter with 12 of his 19 points, which kept it within striking distance.
Then in the fourth quarter, Eli Pitts came through with a nifty dunk on the inbound pass, extending the Red Elephants’ edge to 63-55.
After trading baskets with Cherokee Bluff (7-5), Pitts came through with a layup on a pass inside.
Right when Gainesville looked to be pulling away for good, Corey Thomas, who scored a team-high 28 for Cherokee Bluff, drained a 3-point shot to get to within seven points.
With less than two minutes remaining, Cherokee Bluff was assessed a double-technical foul, but Gainesville was only able to make 1 of 4 free throws.
Early on, Thomas was hot for Cherokee Bluff with 12 points in the first period.
Still, Gainesville was able to keep the lead.
Dylan Bobga knocked down a 3-pointer for Gainesville, making its lead 17-10, with 3:45 remaining in the first quarter.
Early in the second period, Gainesville built its biggest lead of the game after Ced Nicely put in a basket, followed by a dunk by Pitts to make the score 40-25.
Cherokee Bluff answered before halftime with a pair of baskets by Thomas, narrowing the gap to 44-37 at intermission.
With the win, it was a clean sweep for Gainesville at Lanierland.
In the girls final, the Lady Red Elephants topped East Hall 52-37.
This marked the first time Gainesville swept at Lanierland since 1992.
Up next, Gainesville hosts South Forsyth on January 8. Cherokee Bluff will visit Lumpkin County on January 5.