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Lanierland semifinals bring a battle of Hall County's best
Chestatee basketball players Erin Clifford, left, and Tyler Bennett run through a drill Wednesday as they practice for tonight’s Lanierland semifinal game. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

Lanierland tournament

Thursday’s games at Gainesville
Flowery Branch boys vs. East Hall, 4 p.m.
Chestatee boys vs. Lakeview Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Chestatee girls vs. North Hall, 7 p.m.
East Hall girls vs. Flowery Branch, 8:30 p.m.

Friday’s games at North Hall
West Hall girls vs. Johnson, 4 p.m.
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Gainesville, 5:30 p.m.
West Hall boys vs. Johnson, 7 p.m.
Gainesville vs. North Hall boys, 8:30 p.m.

Chestatee girls basketball coach Web Daniel doesn’t feel like there’s adequate respect given to his program around Hall County. He knows winning the Lanierland tournament championship, starting with a semifinal game against North Hall on Thursday at Gainesville High, is one of the best ways to show local fans they can play with anyone.

“Winning Lanierland would be a huge boost,” said Daniel, who twice has guided the Lady War Eagles (8-1) to Lanierland’s championship game. “If we win these next two, I think that will start to change.”

Both girls tournament semifinal games are tonight at Gainesville, while the boys semifinals will be contested at North Hall High on Friday.

Only Flowery Branch’s girls (10-0) maintain a perfect record, while four semifinal teams have only one loss.

Gainesville’s boys won its first game of the season in the first round, just one day after the football program won the state championship, and will likely be back at full staff for its semifinal game at North Hall (6-1) in Friday’s nightcap.

The other traditional rivalry game that will be on display in the semifinals is Friday when the Johnson boys (9-1) face West Hall (6-3). The Knights already won a head-to-head matchup against the Spartans 72-54 just 12 days ago.

Tournament championship games are slated for Saturday night at North Hall.

“Basketball is so important in Hall County that this tournament is always a big deal,” North Hall boys coach Benjie Wood said. “But we have a long way to go as a team.

“Our goal is to be playing at our best in January.”

The Lady Falcons have proven to be one of the most formidable opponents on the girls side, winning nine of its first 10 games by double digits. Flowery Branch didn’t disappoint, leading from beginning to end and winning its tournament opener 58-30 against Gainesville.

Flowery Branch coach Hazel Hall would like a Lanierland championship most for the momentum it would give before going through a two-week gap between games, before continuing Region 8-AAAAA play against Heritage on Jan. 4 in Conyers.

“I think in order to go into Christmas maintaining momentum, we want to finish strong in Lanierland,” Hall said. “We don’t want to finish with a loss.”

Chestatee’s girls coach feels like he has the roster to give Flowery Branch a run if the teams were to meet in the final. The Lady War Eagles had three in double figures and staved off a late rally by West Hall for a 48-44 win in its tourney opener at Gainesville.

North Hall’s girls are in the semifinals after a big 65-22 win against Johnson last weekend.

On the boys side, Johnson looks like it has a solid shot of winning, following a 85-60 win against perennial power East Hall to reach the semifinals.

Knights coach Jeff Steele, who has twice led his program to the tournament semifinals, said one of the perks to playing deep in Lanierland is giving players the experience of playing in a loud environment with the bleachers packed to capacity.

“You won’t find a better environment for high school basketball than the Lanierland championship game,” Steele said. “If you can win it, that’s a huge boost for the kids on the team.”

Every year, new players get to experience the excitement of Lanierland. Lady Trojans coach Kristi House is eager to see how four first-time senior starters perform under the spotlight of the county’s largest basketball showcase.

“There’s a real sense of urgency for our players,” House said.

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