RABBITTOWN — If Flowery Branch’s heartbreaking loss to Gainesville in last year’s Lanierland finals was marked as a learning experience, Wednesday’s 72-49 dismantling of East Hall in the 2015 Lanierland finals can be taken as message that the Lady Falcons have more than just mid-year tournament titles on their minds.
Taniyah Worth did everything but sell concessions to spark the Lady Falcons to their first Lanierland title since 2003. The sophomore forward, who was named the tournament MVP, poured in 12 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and four steals in just over three quarters of work.
“Just an indescribable feeling,” Worth said. “I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team win.”
“Taniyah is a special player and I’m just so proud of her and how she responded after a tough first game (of the tournament),” said Flowery Branch Coach Courtney Newton, who was a freshman on that 2003 title team.
“Not really sure that I can put it into words what this means. I’m just glad these girls get to experience this feeling.”
As for any messages intentionally sent or not, the rest of Region 8-AAAAA and Class AAAAA overall is sure to be taking notice.
“We’re not trying to send any messages and we’re not really worried about that kind of thing,” Newton said. “We’re just trying to play our style and win games. But we feel we have a good team and we’re just going to let our play speak for us.”
The current group of Lady Falcons, who are now 14-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAA, came into the tournament looking perhaps for a measure of revenge and getting another crack at the Lady Red Elephants. They wouldn’t get that chance but memories of last year’s 45-43 loss in the finals in the waning seconds was surely on their minds coming into Wednesday’s matchup with the Lady Vikings.
“The girls remembered that but we just talked about this being the next game and just playing our game on this night,” Newton said. “They started a little slow but I was real impressed with our defense overall.”
Flowery Branch trailed just once in the first quarter and used a 13-1 run in the second quarter to blow things open. The Lady Falcons led by as many as 25 in the second half. They forced more than a half-dozen turnovers in a decisive 26-12 run to pull away for a 54-29 late third quarter lead.
The Lady Vikings (11-3) cut the lead to 56-42 midway through the fourth quarter but could not get any closer.
East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said they “were hurting” after the loss but that it was just another learning experience for his group.
“We kept fighting even after they got that big lead,” Wheeler said. “We cut it 14 and I was proud of that. But we just try to learn from big-stage games like this.”
Perhaps championship jitters contributed to a sloppy first quarter for both teams, who combined for nine turnovers in the first four minutes. The choppy play, however, kept the two teams close early on.
Three lead changes and four ties at 3, 6, 8, and 11 highlighted the first eight minutes. The Lady Falcons opened with a Lexie Sengkhammee 3-pointer that was answered by a Kylah Mize trey to tie the game at 3. Kierra Knight reclaimed the lead for Flowery Branch with another 3-pointer and then Carly Winters answered with a 3-pointer for East Hall to tie the game at 6.
Mize gave the Lady Vikings their only lead of the game with a running basket with 3:28 left in the first quarter but Flowery Branch closed out the period with a 5-2 run on a pair of stick-back baskets by Julianne Sutton and never looked back.
Flowery Branch turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter going to a full-court press that gave East Hall fits. The Lady Falcons forced six second quarter East Hall turnovers that they fueled into a 13-3 run to close out the half.
Worth was the catalyst blocking a pair shots to go with two steals as they turned a slim 15-14 lead into a 28-15 lead with just under two minutes left in the half. A Mize basket at the end of the half cut the lead to 28-17 by halftime.
Worth finished with five points, three blocks, five rebounds, and two steals in the first half.
Senior Maddie Hetzel paced Flowery Branch with a solid game of 21 points to go with four rebounds before fouling out. Knight and Sutton each finished with 11 points for the Lady Falcons.
East Hall was led by 17 points each from Mize and Ashlyn Ellison.
NORTH HALL 33
The Lady Red Elephants held North Hall to just 11 second half points to rally for the win in the third-place consolation game.
Gainesville used an 8-2 run to open the fourth quarter to break a 28-28 tie at the end of the third quarter. The Lady Trojans managed just one field goal over the final four minutes and had several chances in the final minute to cut into the lead but missed six of their last seven shots.
North Hall led 11-10 after the first quarter and opened up a 17-12 lead midway through the second quarter. But the Lady Red Elephants answered with a 9-0 run to reclaim the lead 21-17. But the Lady Trojans closed out the first half with a 5-0 spurt to grab a 22-21 lead at halftime.
Tija Blackwell and Shikiya Brown each finished with 11 points to pace Gainesville (8-3).
North Hall (6-5) was led by Taylor Anne Kelly’s 12 points. Sadie Cleveland added eight for the Lady Trojans.
LAKEVIEW ACADEMY 57
The Lady Lions used a 20-4 third quarter to blow open a close game en route to the win.
Lakeview Academy used a 20-4 third quarter to blow open a close game en route to a 57-44 win over Chestatee in the fifth-place game of the 56th annual Lanierland Tournament at the East Hall gym.
It was the second-highest finish ever for Lakeview (8-5) and the first time the Lady Lions have won two games in the same tournament.
The two teams battled back-and-forth in the first half with Lakeview leading 12-10 after the first quarter and 26-24 at halftime.
But the Lady Lions exploded for a 13-0 run to start the third quarter and led by as many as 20, 46-26, late in the third quarter and by 25, 53-28, early in the fourth quarter. But Chestatee stormed back in the final minutes.
The Lady War Eagles (6-8) used a 9-0 run to climb within 53-37 and got to within 55-44 with just over two minutes left. But they could get no closer missing four straight shots before Lakeview took the air out of the ball in the final minute.
Ryann Moody paced Lakeview with 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Hannah Grogan added 12 for the Lady Lions.
Lindsey Caudell had a game-high 16 points to lead Chestatee. Dawndria Bell added nine points for the Lady War Eagles.
WEST HALL 61
Sophomore Anna McKendree poured in 28 points to lead the Lady Spartans to the win in the seventh-place game.
West Hall (6-6) held the Lady Knights (1-10) to just 8 first half points. The Lady Spartans led 10-4 after the first quarter and used a 15-4 second quarter to blow the game open.
The Lady Spartans outscored Johnson 18-10 in the third quarter and 18-8 in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Izzy Salgado had eight points for West Hall, which had 10 different players score.
Johnson was led by senior Kimmie Brady with eight points.
Girls All-Tournament Team
MVP: Taniyah Worth - Flowery Branch
Sportsmanship award: Macy Passmore - West Hall
Hanna Grogan – Lakeview Academy
Lindsey Caudell – Chestatee
Sarah Hollifield – North Hall
Anna McKendree – West Hall
Caroline Odum – Johnson
Summer Lindsey – East Hall
Julianne Sutton – Flowery Branch
2015 LANIERLAND TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Wednesday, Dec. 30 at East Hall High, Final round
Flowery Branch girls 72, East Hall 49
Flowery Branch boys 62, East Hall 56
North Hall boys 73, West Hall 61 -- 3rd place game
Gainesville girls 39, North Hall 33 -- 3rd place game
Lakeview Academy boys 67, Johnson 64 -- 5th place game
Lakeview Academy girls 57, Chestatee 44 -- 5th place game
West Hall girls 61, Johnson 26 -- 7th place game