Friday February 12th, 2016 4:56AM

Basketball: Area teams expect tough first round no matter their positions

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
Hazel Hall said the task facing her team -- and four of its starters in particular -- is simple.

"They have to make up their minds about how they want this to end," Hall said of a stellar senior class that has led the way for the Lady Falcons for the past three seasons. "They were real down and disappointed after last weekend; there were a lot of tears. But we're not finished yet. And that's how we have to look at it."

Starting today, the Lady Falcons (23-5) have ample opportunity to make last week's fourth-place finish in the Region 8-AAAAA tournament a distant memory.

The first round of the GHSA basketball playoffs tip off Tuesday, and Flowery Branch will begin the tournament squarely focused on the present -- and making the most of it.

"We dug ourselves a deeper hole with what happened last week, but we've got to live with that and go out and play hard this week," said Hall, whose team entered the 8-AAAAA bracket as a No. 1 seed before falling to eventual region champ Salem in the semifinals and Cedar Shoals in the consolation game. "Salem has a great team, and they're finally healthy. Then we came out against Cedar Shoals and were flat, flat, flat. But there's no time for self-pity. We've got to be ready to play."

The Lady Falcons will travel to face Region 5-AAAAA champion Allatoona (17-5) today at 6 p.m. in Acworth, facing a versatile squad that Hall says will test her team in all phases.

"They've got a good point guard and two good shooters," Hall said. "They're not huge inside. But their posts are physical and they can do some things. We'll have to be at our best."

It's the type of match-up that all of the area's teams that are still competing can expect. And of the 19 northeast Georgia programs that will be in action midweek, none are preparing for an easy path into the second round.

That includes the Gainesville boys.

The Region 8-AAAAA champion Red Elephants (19-9) may be the hottest team in northeast Georgia, riding a 10-game win streak that helped overturn a 1-6 start. But coach Todd Cottrell says first round foe Hiram (16-12) has his full attention.

"They're a good team," Cottrell said of the foe Gainesville will face at 7 p.m. Wednesday at home. "They have played really well the last couple of weeks, and they have three outstanding players, including a 6-foot-7 guy on the wing. It's going to be a tough challenge."

With nine seniors leading the way, the Red Elephants understand the urgency of postseason play.

"The guys know at this point it's win and keep playing, and they're excited about playing with each other," Cottrell said. "They don't care who stars for us, they just want to play together the best they can. We've been in a good rhythm lately. The guys have been making great adjustments, especially defensively in the second half. I hope we can keep it up."

It's a sentiment shared by many area coaches, as teams like the Johnson boys -- who will play host to Shaw at 7 p.m. Wednesday -- look to continue stellar seasons. In the Knights' case it is the best season in program history after already posting their highest win total ever at 24-4, the last victory clinching Johnson's first region title since 2005.

Both Buford programs will also look to maintain their winning ways after claiming both 7-AAA titles on Saturday. The Lady Wolves will play host to Woodward Academy at 6 p.m. Tuesday, while the Buford boys will play host to Cedar Grove at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Region 8-AA champion Jefferson boys will play host to Kendrick at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

There are plenty more teams looking to bounce back this week, however, including the second-seeded North Hall boys, who will play host to Decatur at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the No. 2 seed Dawson County girls, who will play host to Blessed Trinity at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Dawsonville. East Hall's boys will also look to build on their third-place finish on the road at St. Pius at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Chestatee girls, 8-AAAA runner-up, will also look to erase memories of a cold-shooting night in region championship game with a 6 p.m. battle against Columbus in Gainesville.

For all teams involved, it is a chance to create a new story and take a giant step toward every program's ultimate goal.

For a look at all of the area teams involved in the first round games of mid-week, simply scroll down (tip-off times included if available).

State Basketball Playoffs, First Round Match-ups for Area Teams*

Class AA
Kendrick (No. 4 seed) at Jefferson (No. 1 seed), 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rabun County (No. 3) at Spencer (No. 2)

Class AAA
Cedar Grove (No. 4) at Buford (No. 1), 6 p.m. Wednesday
Decatur (No. 3) at North Hall (No. 2), 7 p.m. Wednesday
East Hall (No. 3) at St. Pius (No. 2), 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Dawson County (No. 4) at Woodward Academy (No. 1), 7 p.m. Wednesday

Class AAAA
Shaw (No. 4) at Johnson (No. 1), 7 p.m. Wednesday
Stephens County (No. 3) at Fayette County (No. 2), 6 p.m. Wednesday

Hiram (No. 4) at Gainesville (No. 1), 7 p.m. Wednesday

Class AA
Manchester (No. 4) at Rabun County (No. 1), 6 p.m. Tuesday
Union County (No. 3) at Bowdon (No. 2), 7 p.m. Tuesday
Jefferson (No. 4) at Kendrick (No. 1), 6 p.m. Tuesday

Class AAA
Woodward Academy (No. 4) at Buford (No. 1), 6 p.m. Tuesday
Blessed Trinity (No. 3) at Dawson County (No. 2), 6 p.m. Tuesday
Fannin County (No. 3) at Decatur (No. 2), 6 p.m. Tuesday
White County (No 4) at St. Pius (No. 1), 6 p.m. Tuesday

Class AAAA
Columbus (No. 3) at Chestatee (No. 2), 6 p.m. Tuesday
Stephens County (No. 3) at LaGrange (No. 2)

Flowery Branch (No. 4) at Allatoona (No. 1), 6 p.m. Tuesday

*-Note: Class A playoffs scheduled to begin Friday and Saturday
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