GAINESVILLE — Flowery Branch’s contingent wanted to be able to soak it all in.
Players hugged one another. Fans jumped up and down on a drenched basketball court.
And Flowery Branch boys basketball coach Todd Cottrell was in search of some extra towels after getting doused with water following a come-from-behind 85-81 victory in overtime against East Hall in the Region 7-AAA championship game on Saturday night in Gainesville.
Flowery Branch (24-3) captured the school’s first region title in basketball, against the most formidable of opponents from East Hall, who’ve won 20 region titles in the past 26 seasons.
“This is just a great blessing,” Cottrell said. “God has been great to this team, and they just believe in each other.”
Flowery Branch managed the victory thanks to a characteristic balanced night of scoring with five players in double figures. A.C. Bailey led the Falcons with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Izaan Cross had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Josh Barrett (14 points), Connor Shaw (11 points) and Chris Lipscomb (10 points) were also in double figures.
Flowery Branch also took advantage of its opportunities with 42 free throws.
The Falcons trailed by as much as 15 late in the third quarter before going on a 19-6 run over the next five minutes. Flowery Branch forced East Hall into turnovers in the fourth quarter, and had key baskets from Brian Whelchel, Barrett, Shaw, Bailey and Cross to slowly chip away at the Vikings’ (22-6) cushy lead.
Cross hit a pair of free throws with 3:30 left in regulation to tie the score at 67-67. And Bailey gave the Falcons their first lead at 70-67 on the next trip down the floor.
“The feeling of winning the region championship is incredible,” Cross said. “When we were down there was no lecture, coach just told us to believe in ourselves.
Shaw hit a pair of free throws with only 26 seconds left to put the Falcons up by 2, but East Hall’s Dedric Ware managed to send the game into overtime with a jump shot in the lane with only 10 seconds remaining.
Ken Wise led the Vikings with 20 points and Trevor Bishop scored 11.
In overtime, the Falcons left nothing to chance. Shaw hit a 3-pointer and two free throws, and Barrett scored on a jump shot and free throw to help build an insurmountable lead.
Flowery Branch did miss four straight free throws late in overtime, but Cross hit a free throw making it a two possession game with only 11 seconds left.
Flowery Branch now can turn its attention to playing host to the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAA to open the playoffs next Friday night in South Hall. East Hall will entertain the No. 3 seed from Region 5-AAA next Friday in Valhalla.
“Our team believes in ourselves,” Barrett said. “We feel like we can make it to Macon.”
Chestatee boys 66, Gainesville 52
Parker Smith passed the 2,000 point mark in his career for the War Eagles (22-7) en route to a third place finish in the Region 7-AAA tournament on Saturday night at Gainesville. With the win, Chestatee visits the Blessed Trinity/Dunwoody loser to open the Class AAA state playoffs on Friday.
“I could tell by looking at our kids we weren’t going to mail this one in today,” War Eagles coach Russ Triaga said. “It’s a big thing for our program to win 22 games in a season.
“I was just very pleased with our effort as a whole.”
Smith was unflappable in the fourth period hitting a three pointer, a jump shot and three free throws in a two minute span midway through the quarter. He finished the game with 35 points and was 10-for-11 at the free throw line.
Branden Jovaag scored 14 points for the War Eagles, and Brandon Smith added nine.
After getting outscored 17-10 in the third quarter, Jovaag helped the War Eagles get control of the game permanently with a 3-pointer with 5:55 left to play to take a 51-44 lead.
George Manomano was the leading scorer for the Red Elephants (15-13) with 22. He finished the weekend with 55 points.
Nick Johnson finished with 15 points for the Red Elephants. Allan Dockery also played well for Gainesville with seven points and seven rebounds.
Gainesville is now the No. 4 seed in the playoffs from Region 7-AAA and visits the Blessed Trinity/Dunwoody winner on Friday to open the AAA state playoffs.