The battle between the Class AAA girls No. 5- and No. 6-ranked teams lived up to its billing.
Thanks to a balanced scoring attack, and a few timely lay ups and 3-pointers, the Gainesville (5-1) girls beat defending state champion East Hall (4-2) 44-39 Tuesday night at East Hall High.
"We got a win in a tough environment, but other than that we aren't very happy with our performance tonight," said Gainesville coach Manson Hill. "We can play better than this."
The game was a back-and-forth battle from the beginning as neither team was able to sustain momentum.
Evidenced when, in the first few minutes of the game, the Lady Red Elephants took their second lead on a 3-pointer by junior point guard Taylor Ricketts only to have East Hall point guard Erin McGonigle tie it back up at nine on the Lady Vikings ensuing possession when she drove the length of the floor and through the lane, hit a lay up and was fouled. McGonigle hit the ensuing free throw.
Ricketts finished the game with seven points, McGonigle finished with five.
The first quarter ended knotted at nine, the tie was broken 30 seconds into the second quarter on a steal and lay up by Gainesville's Kiki Thompson.
As was the case all night, however, East Hall tied it back up at 11-11 on a Sada Wheeler jumper from just inside the 3-point line at the top of the key.
Wheeler would hit shots on East Hall's next two possessions to give her team a 15-13 lead and momentum, at least for one trip down the floor. Wheeler finished the game with a game-high 14 points.
Jaymee Carnes, who had a quiet beginning of the night for the Lady Red Elephants, scored her second and third points of the game on two free throws with 3:30 to go in the first half to tie the game at 15.
She finished the game with nine points and eight rebounds.
"Jaymee can play a lot better than she did," said Hill. "Jaymee's one of those kids, she's a hard worker and she wants to get better and she doesn't want to make mistakes.
"There were a lot of factors, what we were doing and what East Hall was doing -it isn't easy to throw into someone that Sada Wheeler is guarding-that stopped Jaymee Carnes tonight."
The two teams went into their respective lockerooms with the Lady Vikings ahead by two points, 21-19, thanks to a couple of made free throws by senior Jessica Blackwell.
Sloppy play from both sides contributed heavily to the lack of controlled and consistent scoring as well. The two teams combined for over 50 turnovers in the game. Having taken a four-point lead at the beginning of the second half on two made free throws by sophomore Dorreka Faulkner, the Lady Vikings looked to be building some momentum that could possibly turn into their biggest lead of the night.
That thought was short-lived, however as Gainesville senior Hailey Solomon hit a short jumper to pull her team within two and then Carnes, on Gainesville's next possession, hit her first field goal of the game on a turnaround jumper in the lane to again tie the score, this time at 23 all.
"I really liked our resiliency," said Hill.
Carnes would continue her late-game onslaught after a Ricketts bank-in 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Gainesville its first lead since early in the first half. The sophomore center hit two shots in a row, extending her team's lead to five points and giving them much-needed momentum heading into the final period.
As was the case with East Hall's momentum, however, Gainesville's was short-lived thanks to two scores by junior shooting guard Hannah Stickland, one a baseline jumper the other coming via a lay up, that brought her team within two points of the lead at 33-31.
A teeter totter type basketball game lends itself to drama and the theatricals were only enhanced in the waning minutes of the game when East Hall re-took the lead on a made lay up, and subsequent made free throw because she was fouled, by senior Sonata Chester.
On Gainesville's next two possessions, senior Abby Musselwhite hit a lay up to give her team the lead back at 36-35 and Thompson hit a back-breaking 3-pointer to push the Lady Red Elephants lead to four at 39-35.
While East Hall would try valiantly to mount a comeback, they had a chance to tie it at 39 but instead watched as sophomore Loren Thomas stole the ball and hit her two free throws that came as a result of being fouled while shooting, it wasn't to be and Gainesville escaped Valhalla with a win.
"I liked what we did in the fourth quarter," said Hill. "The way we picked up our competitive spirit and the way we knocked down those free throws in the clutch and Jaymee (Carnes) came up with some big rebounds in the clutch and Loren (Thomas) made some big plays in the clutch and that part I liked."
Both the Lady Red Elephants and Lady Vikings next play in the Lanierland Tournament being held this weekend.
East Hall boys 66, Gainesville 62
Dedric Ware had 19 points and Josh Chapman had 15 points to lead the Vikings to a victory over Gainesville on Tuesday night at Valhalla.
After giving up six early points to Gainesville, all coming care of junior George Manomano, the Vikings went on a 17-0 run, led by senior Ware's 10 first-quarter points, stopped only by three late first-quarter baskets by Gainesville's Allan Dockery, Gerald Ford and Manomano.
Manomano finished the game with 19 points, Ford and Dockery with 14 points a piece.
The Vikings added to their 10-point lead by the end of the half and went into the lockeroom ahead by 13 at 43-30.
The Red Elephants, facing a double-digit deficit, did anything but hang their heads and came back on the Vikings in the second half getting as close as four points before East Hall's scoring armory, sparked by back-to back 3-pointers by senior Trevor Bishop and Chapman, shut them down.
Kiante Young was the only other double-digit scorer for East Hall hitting for 10 points. The Vikings and Red Elephants both return to action this weekend in the Lanierland Tournament.