GAINESVILLE -- And a freshman shall lead them...
Waiting seven years between titles, it took one of the best finals performances in recent memory by freshman Taylor Hawks to propel the Gainesville girls back onto the Lanierland championship podium.
Hawks poured in 32 points to go with six rebounds, four assists, and five steals to give the Lady Elephants a 57-50 victory over North Hall in the finals Saturday night at the Lakeview Academy gym.
Gainesville coach Brenda Hill said they knew coming into this year they had a group capable of putting the Lady Elephants back on the map.
"Nobody thought we would be here but we knew how good they could be and they just work hard everyday," Hill said. "This was a great opportunity for them to show what they could do and other than a few lapses here and there they did that. I can't say enough about them."
Hawks, who helped seal the win late with four straight free throws in the final 44 seconds, earned the tournament MVP award with her effort.
"It feels great but everybody stepped up for us," Hawks said. "Our goal is just to try and get better every game."
One night after watching North Hall drain 12 3-pointers in a semifinals win over Chestatee, Gainesville held the Lady Trojans to just 5-of-15 shooting from 3-point range and forced 24 turnovers with its quick, trapping defense.
North Hall coach Kristi House, whose Lady Trojans were looking for their second title in three years, said not getting their 3-point game going was a big key.
"(Gainesville) took that away from us and we really weren't able to get much of anything going when they were in the press," House said. "But we knew it would be a tough game for both teams on offense."
North Hall opened the game strong with a 6-2 run. Gainesville would grab its first lead, 7-6, on a 5-0 run on five straight points by Hawks. The Lady Trojans, however, would close out the first quarter on a 7-3 run, highlighted by a Kensi Gillespie 3-pointer for a 13-10 lead.
But that would be the final basket of the half for North Hall as Gainesville's quickness and defense took over. The Lady Elephants forced three straight North Hall turnovers and Hawks went to work with two consecutive 3-pointers and two straight assists as they went on a 15-2 run to take a 23-15 lead.
Gainesville held North Hall to just six second quarter free throws and took a 27-19 lead into halftime. The Lady Elephants also dominated the boards out-rebounding North Hall 20-13, with Kayla Kelly pulling down seven in the first half.
The Lady Elephants continued where they left off to start the second half running out to a 30-19 lead. But North Hall finally found a spark after going 12:03 without a field goal. A pair of 3-pointers by Sadie Cleveland sparked a 9-2 run to pull the Lady Trojans within 32-28 with 3:11 left in the third quarter.
North Hall continued to chip away eventually getting within 43-41 on two free throws by Katie Sayres with 4:15 left in the game. But that's as close as they could get.
"We felt good being down just two but we had some lulls after that and they took advantage," House said.
Gainesville used a 7-1 run over the next two minutes to retake control and Hawks helped seal the win at the free throw line.
Paisley Lee finished with 11 points for Gainesville. Kelly finished with 11 rebounds for the Lady Elephants.
Sydney Cleveland had 17 points and six rebounds to lead North Hall. Sadie Cleveland finished with 15 points. Gillespie finished with seven assists for the Lady Trojans.
THIRD PLACE GAME:
Chestatee girls 65,
Lakeview Academy 52
Bridgette Kelly poured in 32 points, including five 3-pointers, to lead Chestatee to a win in the third place game.
The Lady War Eagles (10-2) opened the game with a 19-5 run and then cruised to the victory. They held off the Lady Lions (4-4) at the free throw line going 27-for-40 for the game. Lakeview was just 8-of-18 from the free throw line.
Chestatee, which hit eight 3-pointers for the game, led 39-21 at halftime and 49-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
Kayla Watson added 11 points for Chestatee.
Hanna Grogan poured in 22 points to pace Lakeview, including hitting five 3-pointers.
54TH LANIERLAND ALL-TOURNAMENT HONORS
MVP -- Taylor Hawks, Gainesville
Sportsmanship Award -- Kensi Gillespie, North Hall
Sarah Williams, Johnson
Jensen Hall, West Hall
Heather Moore, Flowery Branch
Jatasia Bailey, East Hall
Hanna Grogan, Lakeview Academy
Bridgette Kelly, Chestatee
Paislee Lee, Gainesville
Sydney Cleveland, North Hall