GAINESVILLE -- Gainesville senior Shaquan Cantrell knew it was time to do something.
And man did he.
Cantrell ignited a 14-4 run with a steal and thunderous dunk and then finished off the run with four straight points to help lead the Elephants to a nail-biting 60-58 win over New Manchester Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
"I just felt like I needed to make plays. That's my role and it was time to step up," Cantrell said.
Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said it just happened to be his turn.
"It seems someone different every game is stepping up and tonight I guess it was Shaquan's turn," Cottrell said. "The kids know what to do. We didn't call anything from the bench. The kids recognized who had the hot hand and they made plays when they had too. I'm proud of them."
Yet, it was fellow senior Jikeese Ruff that provided the ultimate game-winner with two free throws with 9.9 seconds left to send Gainesville to its first Final Four appearance since 2009.
"I was just praying that I would make them," Ruff said. "It's a scary feeling (to be up there with the game on the line) but after the first one went in I was good."
Still, they had to wait what seemed an eternity to watch a 3-point attempt by the Jaguars' Ryan Edwards, who hit four treys in the game, clang off the rim at the buzzer.
"It was in the air a while but I saw it wasn't going to make it," Cantrell said. "But it feels great to be in the Final Four. That's what we've been playing for."
Gainesville (22-9) moves on to play Effingham County at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Kennsaw State in the semifinals.
After watching leads in their first two playoff games dwindle late in games, the Elephants got a welcome sight hitting 11-of-16 free throws down the stretch to keep the Jaguars at bay. Cottrell said he was glad to see a change in fortunes at the line on Wednesday.
"It was good to see and we needed everyone of them," he said. "Jikeese was huge at the end and really I just thought everyone focused a little better."
Cottrell, who has a senior-laden team, said sometimes there is no substitute for experience.
"Most of the time the seniors have experienced things and know what to expect in big situations. I think you saw that tonight," he said. "That could play a big factor for us in the next round."
Cantrell would finish with a game-high 19 points, 13 in the second half, to go with five rebounds and two steals. Senior Luke Moore poured in 13 points, including three big 3-pointers, and added two steals and one assist. Ruff had nine points, six in the fourth quarter, including four free throws in the final minutes.
The game was nip-and-tuck throughout as neither team led by more than nine points, twice by Gainesville in the second quarter. Neither team led by more than five in the second half.
Gainesville took a 30-28 lead into the third quarter and the two teams' traded baskets until New Manchester opened up a 45-40 lead on a Joe Boyer basket with 1:55 left in the third quarter. Cantrell's steal and dunk finished the scoring in the third and then another Cantrell basket and two free throws by Moore reclaimed the lead for Gainesville at 46-45 just 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
But the Jaguars retook the lead on a Edwards 3-pointer moments later but would not lead again as the Elephants answered with an 8-1 run, capped by a nifty spinning layup by Cantrell with 2:25 left.
New Manchester would tie the game at 58 on a floating jumper from Nashon Dortch with 14 seconds left but Ruff was fouled five seconds later at halfcourt.
"Just another typical game for us," Cottrell said. "But these guys just keep finding ways to win. They are a great bunch to be around."
Gainesville got the first lead on a Moore 3-pointer just seconds into the game but New Manchaster answered with a 5-0 run for its only lead of the first half.
The Elephants responded with an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead, 11-5. The Jaguars came right back with six straight points, highlighted by four points and one assist from Boyer, to tie the game at 11. The two teams would trade a pair of baskets before Moore drained his second 3-pointer to give the Elephants the lead for good the rest of the half.
Gainesville would finish the first quarter on an 8-2 run and then extend the lead to 24-15 on Moore's third 3-pointer of the half. But Edwards and Dortch got them back in the game.
Dortch dished out three assists, including two to Edwards, who connected on two long 3-pointers, to pull New Manchester to within 26-25 with 1:59 left in the half. Gainesville's Chase England would score and then assist on a Cantrell basket before Edwards would hit three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to trim Gainesville's lead to 30-28 at halftime.
Edwards finished with 18 points, three rebounds, and seven assists to pace the Jaguars. Dortch added 14 points, 12 in the second half, and Boyer had 12 points, but just two after halftime, to go with seven rebounds.