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Lanierland: Gainesville girls use first-half surge to claim title against East Hall
Gainesville's Zaria Williams (5) passes the ball against East Hall during the Lanierland championship Wednesday in Gainesville. Photo by Paul Sasso MV Photo Concepts

There was every reason to celebrate for the Gainesville girls on Wednesday, after wrapping up its first Lanierland championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.

Having only a smattering on fans in its gymnasium for the Hall County basketball tournament, due to coronavirus precautions, didn’t put a dent in the jovial mood after beating East Hall 52-37 in the title game.

For one night, at least, it was all about basketball and not about the pandemic or uncertainty about whether they could play on a regular basis.

“This is so big for us, in our community, because these kids have been through so much over the past year,” Gainesville coach Alan Griffin said. “For the next year, they’ll be able to say they’re Lanierland champs. That’s a great feeling.”

And the Lady Red Elephants were feeling on top of the world after it was all over, a tournament title game that swayed heavily in their favor after jumping to a 14-point halftime lead in Gainesville.

They posed for team pictures after the game on the gym floor. And when the tournament trophy was brought into the locker room, it was met with a spontaneous cheer by Gainesville’s entire roster.

Griffin said that practice during the Christmas holiday set a positive tone for the Lanierland.

“Our team has been so locked in all week, getting ready for Lanierland,” Griffin added.

All-tournament teams were not awarded at the end of the girl’s championship game, a decision made to by county athletic directors to postpone it until a later date.

However, Gainesville left feeling like they put on a pretty dominating showing, after having to battle to a two-point win against North Hall in the semifinal round.

In the finals, Gainesville started to put it away with Sadie Roach’s early third-quarter basket and Zaria Williams’ basket and made ensuing free throw, giving it a 37-16 lead with 5:30 left on the clock for the period.

Meanwhile, East Hall struggled shooting all night. Gainesville took full advantage of it.

For Gainesville, Lauren Teasley and Keke Jones each scored 16 points, while Zaria Williams finished with 13.

Teasley took on a bit of a different role this week, working more in the post and setting screens, she said.

It paid off as she set the tone underneath and spurred a late first-quarter run that turned out to be critical to the outcome of the game, making three straight baskets before the end of the first quarter.

For Teasley, winning the Lanierland in her final attempt was a total-team effort.

“Everyone on our team contributed,” said Teasley, who was 6 for 6 on free throw attempts. “Winning Lanierland is such a good feeling. I had a good feeling about this game since this morning.”

Then, Jones dropped in a 3-pointer in the first seconds of the second quarter, giving the Lady Red Elephants a 16-7 lead.

Gainesville, in the first half, dominated on the rebounding end and converted on numerous second-effort baskets. Williams followed with a layup after her teammate’s miss, making in a 21-11 Lady Red Elephants lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Williams continued to be an inside scoring threat, driving through an open lane for a wide-open basket to make it 26-15 with less than 3 minutes left in the first half.

Despite the sluggish offense early, East Hall’s Callie Dale knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the opening quarter, making it a 5-5 score.

For East Hall, Maleah Harrison had a team-high 14 points.

Up next, Gainesville faces South Forsyth on Jan. 6. East Hall plays next against Monroe Area on Jan. 5.

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