FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Flowery Branch girls were ready to make a statement in Region 8-AAAAA Friday night at home against rival Gainesville.
For 31 minutes, it appeared the Lady Falcons would do just that. But Gainesville's Taylor Hawks would have none of it.
The freshman guard hit a running floater with 18 seconds left to cap a 13-5 run over the final 4:59 to give the Lady Elephants a thrilling 37-36 come-from-behind win.
"We definitely stole this one," Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said. "The defenses on both sides were tough. We didn't execute very well but somehow we found a way."
Hawks' shot came after helping the Lady Elephants' defense force four consecutive Flowery Branch turnovers in the final minute. For the game Gainesville forced 26 Flowery Branch turnovers. Gainesville had 15 turnovers of its own.
"We pride ourselves on our defense and I thought we did a very good job at the end," Hill-Gilmore said. "Taylor has shown she can handle the pressure of the moment. Our team is very unselfish and they show that on defense."
With the Region 8-AAAAA Tournament and a possible state playoff berth just around the corner, it's the kind of game the Lady Elephants can expect the rest of the way.
"I think we can build on it," Hill-Gilmore said. "These girls really play well as a team and that's our strength. We'll play the press until the other team shows they can beat it."
Flowery Branch (11-10, 8-5 Region 8-AAAAA) was making a run in the region standings with four straight wins to climb into a third-place tie with Clarke Central heading into Friday's action.
Gainesville (18-4, 11-2) came into the game a solid second place and ran its win streak to six and is now a perfect 7-0 in region road games.
The Lady Elephants did not lead in the game until the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Kabree Randolph for a 17-15 lead to open the second half scoring. The two teams would then swap the lead six more times in the quarter with Flowery Branch closing the period on a 6-0 run for a 27-22 advantage.
The Lady Falcons would push their lead to 31-24 -- their biggest of the game -- on a basket by Breanna Locke with 4:59 left in the game. But Hawks would set up two straight scoring plays and then cap a 7-0 run with a driving layup to tie the game at 31 with 3:17 left.
Flowery Branch regained the lead 34-31 on a three-point play by Kylah Mize on its next possession. The Lady Falcons led 36-33 after a Kierra Knight basket with 1:35 left but struggled against the Gainesville press in the final minute.
Kayla Kelly cut the lead to 36-35 for Gainesville on a stick-back basket with 1:00 left. After three straight Flowery Branch turnovers the Lady Elephants finally were able to capitalize on Hawks' shot with 18 seconds left.
Flowery Branch had a chance to increase its lead moments before Hawks' game-winner but Knight missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt . The Falcons had another chance to tie the game or take the lead but Heather Moore also missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt with 0:05.8 seconds left trailing 37-36.
The Lady Falcons never trailed in the first half but the game was tied three times at 2, 6, and 8 before Flowery Branch opened up an 11-8 lead on a three-point play by Mize to end the first quarter.
But both offenses struggled in the second quarter while the defenses forced 22 turnovers combined in the half. The Lady Elephants scored just one field goal in the second quarter and neither team scored a field goal over the final 4:13 of the half.
Mize gave Flowery Branch a 15-12 lead with 4:13 left. Gainesville's Tanai Watson cut the lead to 15-14 on a pair of free throws with 3:48 left and neither team would score the rest of the first half.
Hawks would finish with nine points and three assists to lead Gainesville. Breanna Fair and Shikiya Brown each had five points for the Lady Elephants, who had nine different players score.
Flowery Branch was led Mize, who had a game-high 12 points. Locke finished with just four points but added eight rebounds and four assists for the Lady Falcons.
Flowery Branch will have little time to reflect playing host to Loganville Saturday in another 8-AAAAA contest. Gainesville will play host to Loganville on Tuesday.
GAINESVILLE BOYS 67
FLOWERY BRANCH 52
Gainesville never trailed in taking the win on the road.
The Elephants (13-9, 6-7 Region 8-AAAAA) used a 14-3 run in the first six minutes to open a 16-6 lead after the opening period. They led by as many as 25-10 midway through the second quarter before the Falcons got hot.
Flowery Branch (3-16, 1-12) was able to trim the lead to 29-20 by halftime and got as close as 36-31 midway through the third quarter. The Falcons continued to chip away and five consecutive points by Tyler Kriews, including a 3-pointer, pulled them to within 50-47 with 5:55 left in the game.
But Gainesville retook control behind Luke Maddox and closed out the game with a 15-5 run. Maddox assisted on two baskets and scored five straight points as the Elephants pulled away.
Maddox finished with a game-high 24 points and six assists for Gainesville, which is fighting for fifth place in the region standings. Rodney Lackey added 15 points for the Elephants.
Cody Dewing led Flowery Branch, which has lost seven straight, with 14 points. Hunter Konuszewski had 11 points, Taylor Bourdage had 10 points, and Kriews finished with nine points for the Falcons.