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Lanierland: Gainesville girls nip Flowery Branch for title
Hawks wins second straight tournament MVP award
Gainesville's Tanai Watson takes a free throw in a 45-43 victory against Flowery Branch in the Lanierland girls championship game Tuesday at Chestatee High. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Girls All-Lanierland Team

Taylor Hawks, Gainesville (MVP)

Shikiya Brown, Gainesville

Breanna Locke, Flowery Branch

Kensi Gillespie, North Hall

Jenny Edwards, East Hall

Tyler Bennett, Chestatee

Hanna Grogan, Lakeview Academy

Meagan Kelly, West Hall

Sarah Williams, Johnson

Sportsmanship award: Sarah Williams, Johnson

Neither team could get in a rhythm or sustain momentum. Neither team could find much breathing room or stay out of foul trouble. And making foul shots was a tricky exercise for the pair of rivals.

But when push came to shove, Taylor Hawks and Gainesville made the necessary plays to secure a 45-43 victory against rival Flowery Branch and a second consecutive Lanierland girls title Tuesday night at Chestatee High.

Hawks, a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard, earned MVP honors for the second straight year after pouring in a game-high 21 points. Hawks' putback with about 48 seconds left put the Lady Red Elephants ahead for good, 41-39.

"Taylor has a knack for the basketball," Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said. "She really understands positioning. I think she really just read where the ball was coming off and just got in position, grabbed that rebound and (got) that putback. She's a very head's-up player."

Gainesville (8-5) went 4 of 12 on free throws from that point to keep the door open for Flowery Branch (11-2), which cut it to 44-43 on a Taniyah Worth putback with about nine seconds left. But after a timeout with 8.5 seconds to go, the Red Elephants were able to run 6.7 seconds off the clock before the Falcons could foul.

Kayla Kelly made 1 of 2 free throws to push it to 45-43 with 1.8 seconds left, and Flowery Branch's Maddie Hetzel was whistled for a foul trying to get in position for the in-bounds pass.

Breana Fair missed the first free throw, then missed the second intentionally before the Falcons' Breanna Locke missed a shot from well beyond halfcourt at the buzzer.

"We just had to settle down and keep our composure," Hawks said.

It was a battle to the finish.

"Our kids may have felt the pressure of defending their championship," Hill-Gilmore said. "It seemed like we came out a little tight. They're tough kids, and I was just really proud. They persevered through it all. They never gave up."

Tanai Watson added 12 points for Gainesville.

Locke scored 13 points for Flowery Branch, with Hetzel and Worth each pitching in nine.

"Both teams are good defensively," Falcons coach Hazel Hall said. "It was going to be hard for both of us."

Hill-Gilmore echoed that assessment.

"When you've got two teams that really take pride in their defense, a lot of times it's going to be an ugly game," Hill-Gilmore said.

Both teams struggled at the foul line, with Gainesville 18 for 37 and Flowery Branch 18 for 31.

It was a non-region contest for the rivals who play together in Region 8-AAAAA. They'll face each other in regular-season region play Jan. 9 at Gainesville and Jan. 27 at Flowery Branch, with a fourth meeting possible in the 8-AAAAA tournament.

"We're going to have to get by them to accomplish what we want to accomplish," Hall said. "So we're going to have to figure out how to beat them."

The Falcons visit Forsyth Central on Saturday, and the Red Elephants play at Lanier on Tuesday.

Winning the tournament for a second straight year carried special significance for Gainesville.

"It's very sweet," Hill-Gilmore said. "But it's very difficult."

NORTH HALL GIRLS 60, EAST HALL 59: The Lady Trojans scored a dramatic victory to secure third place in Lanierland.

Katie Sayres poured in 12 of her game-high 21 points for North Hall in the fourth quarter. But it was Kensi Gillespie going 1-for-2 at the free throw line with 4.2 seconds left that was the difference. That made it 60-57 before the Lady Vikings' Jatasia Bailey scored a layup at the buzzer.

Gillespie added 15 points for North Hall, and Taylor Anne Kelly pitched in 10 points for the Trojans, who were playing their first game without Sadie Cleveland, who sprained her right ankle in a semifinal loss to Flowery Branch a day earlier. Her sister, Sydney Cleveland, is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Chelsea Dale sank six 3-pointers and tallied 20 points to lead East Hall, and Jenny Edwards chipped in 16 points for the Vikings. Ashlyn Ellison added nine points and Kylah Mize eight for East Hall.

North Hall (8-5) hosts Lanier on Friday before welcoming White County on Saturday. The Vikings (7-5) host Dawson County on Saturday.

CHESTATEE GIRLS 48, LAKEVIEW ACADEMY 42: Tyler Bennett's 23 points led the host Lady War Eagles to a victory in the fifth-place game Tuesday.

Becca Eddins added seven points for Chestatee, which got six points from Kayla Watson.

The Lady War Eagles (9-6) play at Stephens County on Saturday.

WEST HALL 55, JOHNSON 37: Macy Passmore scored 16 points and Anna McKendree added 14 as the Lady Spartans finished in seventh place with their victory Tuesday morning.

Sarah Williams paced Johnson with 20 points.

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