MURRAYVILLE -- Flowery Branch hadn't won a girls Lanierland title in nine years. Chestatee had never won one.
Yet at times both looked liked they were veterans of the high-pressure event Saturday night at the North Hall gym. At others, both looked liked they had never been there before.
In the end, the Lady War Eagles built an early-double-digit lead and then held off a furious Lady Falcons' rally in the final four minutes for a 46-44 victory and their first-ever Lanierland title.
And they did it without winning the rebound or turnover battle. Flowery Branch outrebounded Chestatee 30-23 and forced 20 Chestatee turnovers to just 14 for the Lady Falcons.
"We played a great first half and basically just held on,"Chestatee coach Web Daniel said. "We knew they would come back and they did. It was a battle. You won't win too many games with stats like that."
For Daniel, it has been a journey to finally get his first Lanierland championship. Twice before, in 2006 and 2010, Chestatee (11-1) had played for the title only to come up short.
"It's a credit to everyone in the program," he said."We work hard every day. We have great veterans and good senior leadership. They did it. But it does feel good to finally win one."
Senior Sam Brown, who was on the 2010 team that lost to East Hall, made sure of a different outcome this time around. Brown hit five free throws in the final minute and 7-of-9 in the fourth quarter to give the Lady War Eagles just enough of a cushion.
"I just thought about coach and the work we put in every time I went up there," Brown said. "I didn't want us to lose."
The Lady War Eagles led 24-11 at halftime and 32-21 heading into the fourth quarter by virtue of a tremendous defensive effort. They held Flowery Branch to just seven percent shooting in the first half and held Tavia Sykes to just three first half points.
Flowery Branch coach Hazel Hall, who saw her team's best-ever start end at 11 straight wins, said you can't beat good teams when you don't show up.
"We just didn't play in the first half," Hall said. "I'm a little surprised by that. Chestatee played well but you can't let good teams get a lead like that and expect to win."
But Flowery Branch (11-1) stormed back in the final four minutes. The Lady Falcons trailed 39-28 following two Brown free throws but went on a 6-0 run, capped by a Sykes basket, to pull within 39-34 with 2:32 left. Three Chestatee turnovers later Sykes would hit another shot with 40 seconds left to get them within 43-40.
The Lady Falcons' Breanna Locke got them to 44-42 with 28 seconds left but they would miss four shots in their next possession with a chance to tie or take the lead. Two more Brown free throws made it 46-42 with nine seconds left and the Lady War Eagles let Sykes score an easy basket at the buzzer for the final margin, almost pulling off the comeback.
"Almost don't count, though," Hall said.
Brown and Maegan Kenimer, who was named tournament MVP, each finished with 13 points to lead Chestatee. Erin Clifford added 11 for the Lady War Eagles, including three 3-pointers.
Sykes would wind up leading Flowery Branch with 15 points, scoring eight in the fourth quarter. Locke and Jacy Ramey, who also pulled down 11 rebounds, had eight points apiece for the Lady Falcons.
In the first half Flowery Branch took a quick 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Dani Lacko but it was all Chestatee after that. The Lady War Eagles responded with a 10-0 run to grab the lead and then used their trapping defense to frustrate the Lady Falcons.
Sykes was held to just 1-of-3 shooting and Chestatee forced eight Lady Falcons turnovers, which lead to eight points. The Lady Falcons forced nine Chestatee turnovers but poor shooting saw them go two stretches of over four minutes without scoring.
The Lady War Eagles held Flowery Branch to just one Sykes 3-pointer over the final 5:52 of the first half while building a 24-11 halftime lead.
In the consolation games, North Hall rebounded from its tough loss to Chestatee to beat East Hall 44-34 in the third-place game.
In the the fifth-place game, Gainesville knocked off West Hall 34-22 while Lakeview Academy beat Johnson 59-28 in the seventh-place game.