Chestatee girls basketball coach Web Daniel wasn’t sure what to expect from his young team heading into the season. After its game on Friday, many of his questions have been answered.
Behind seven first-half 3-pointers, including four from sophomore Emily Crain, and a game of keep-away in the second, the Lady War Eagles rolled to a 47-39 win over Oconee County in the Region 8-AAA semifinals at Gainesville.
With the win, Chestatee (18-9) advanced to the region final for the first time in school history. The Lady War Eagles will face North Hall at 7 tonight.
“At the beginning of the year, I swear to you,” Daniel said, “I thought we’d compete, but this has just been a great season for these girls.”
After the team demonstrated its shooting touch in the first half, it slowed it down in the second, trying to keep the ball out of the hands of the Lady Warriors’ dangerous scorer Gabby Bevillard, who finished with 16 points.
After the teams scored a combined 11 points in the third quarter leaving Chestatee clinging to a 31-26 lead, Maegan Kenimer led a charge to take control in the fourth.
She went hard to the basket on back-to-back possessions, helping Chestatee extend its lead to 13 points with just six minutes remaining in the game.
“The coaches were iffy about whether we’d be able to make it here,” Kenimer said after the game. “We just wanted to prove everyone wrong, and prove that we could do it.”
Oconee County was able to chip away at the 13-point lead, cutting it down to as few as five with just over a minute left in the game. But Kenimer and Bridgette Kelley knocked down four free throws in the final minute to seal the game.
“We changed our game plane after we took the lead,” Daniel said. “They laid back in the lane. We expected them to change it up, but they never did, so we kept stalling.”
Kenimer finished with 14 points in the game.
The Lady War Eagles earned the ability to stall early with their proficiency behind the arc. Along with Crain’s four from long range, Erin Clifford added two and Samantha Brown had one. Crain had 12 points on the night.
“We’ve got some girls that can shoot,” Daniel said. “Crain has to be one of the best shooters in the state, and she’s only a sophomore. I’m looking forward to some great things from her in the future.”
Now, the Lady War Eagles must take on North Hall, a team that has beaten them three times already this season.
After emerging from a locker room filled with loud cheers and banging on the walls, Kenimer turned her attention to the next game.
“It’s always hard to beat a team four times in one year,” she said, referring to North Hall’s supremacy in the first three matchups. “We’re just going to go out there and play our game, and hopefully we’ll be able to win it.”
NORTH HALL BOYS 57, FRANKLIN COUNTY 25: After a loss in its final regular season game and a less-than-stellar win in the region quarterfinals, the North Hall boys basketball team finally put it together in the second half against Franklin County on Friday, picking up a 57-25 win at Gainesville High to advance to the region finals.
The Trojans (23-4) await the winner of Monroe Area and Walnut Grove, who play at 8:30 p.m. tonight.
North Hall took a modest 19-12 lead into the second half, but began to pull away late in the third quarter when post players Imani Cross, Payton Cagle and Griffin Olson converted on a number of putbacks near the basket.
The Trojans outscored the Lions 14-6 in the third frame to take a 33-18 lead into the fourth. But it was the final quarter when they were able to put it away for good.
Leading by 16, the defense stepped up to hold Franklin county scoreless for four minutes.
"It all started with the defense," North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. "We had some really good defense tonight."
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, Ebo Smith converted back-to-back slick drives to the basket.
Spinning, Smith lofted the ball off the backboard and in, drawing the foul along the way. He converted the foul shot and followed it up with another lay-in on the next possession to give North Hall an insurmountable 43-22 lead.
Smith finished with a game-high 17 points, including nine on three 3-pointers in the first half.
The region finals are at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Gainesville High.
NORTH HALL GIRLS 46, GAINESVILLE 31: Behind six first-half 3-pointers and a stifling defensive effort, the North Hall girls basketball team was able to top Gainesville 46-31 in the Region 8-AAA semifinals Friday at Gainesville High.
With the win, the Lady Trojans (20-7) advance to the region finals to be played Saturday and clinch a top-two seed in the state playoffs.
They will face the winner of Chestatee and Oconee County, who play at 7 p.m. tonight. The North Hall girls have not won the region tournament since 1991, when Lady Trojans coach Kristi House was a member of the team.
"We're really excited," House said after the game. "It's been a goal for these girls since they got to North Hall."
Sydney Cleveland, who knocked down two from long range in the first half, finished with 13 points to lead North Hall.
Mary Kate Rushton added 11. Taylor Swoszowski was limited to seven points, but dished out eight assists to help lead the offense.
Gainesville, which was hindered by missed opportunities on the offensive end, was led by Hunter Pugh's 11 points.
The Lady Red Elephants will face the loser of Chestatee and Oconee County in the consolation final at 4 p.m. Saturday to determine the No. 3 and 4 seeds out of the region for the state playoffs.