GAINESVILLE — West Hall girls coach Bryan Richerson has been wanting his Lady Spartans to have an experience of a lifetime.
They’ll get a shot at it Friday night in the finals of the Lanierland Tournament.
West Hall held off Gainesville 59-50 Thursday in the semifinals to advance to its first Lanierland finals since the program won four straight titles from 1997-2000.
The win also pushed the Lady Spartans’ (11-3) win streak to 11 since an 0-3 start.
The Lady Spartans, ranked third in Class AAAA, will look to see if they can keep the run going taking on Class AAAAAA No. 2 Flowery Branch Friday in the finals at 6:30 p.m. at the Gainesville gym.
“I just feel great for these girls to get a chance to experience something like this,” he said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “They work hard and they deserve a chance to have that special moment. We know it won’t be easy, though.”
West Hall’s semifinal with Gainesville was anticipated as a battle between the Lady Spartans’ Anna McKendree and Gainesville’s Taylor Hawks on the perimeter. Also, which defense -- the Lady Spartans zone or the Lady Red Elephants man-to-man -- would be able to dictate the action.
McKendree and the West Hall offense made the first statement.
West Hall never trailed as McKendree came out on fire. The junior guard drained four 3-pointers on consecutive trips and senior Macy Passmore also connected on a trey as the Lady Spartans ran out to a fast 15-2 lead using screens to open the shooters.
Gainesville (8-3) did mount a rally in the first and second quarters using its half-court trapping defense to fuel a 14-2 run to pull within 17-16 early in the second quarter. But, West Hall answered right back with a 7-0 run and Gainesville never got closer than three (24-21) the rest of the way.
“Hitting those (3-pointers) was big in that I think it gave us that early confidence,” Richerson said. “We knew they were going to come out in man defense on us. We just needed to execute and we did a good job of that early on.”
After the initial barrage, West Hall then flexed its defensive muscles in the pivotal third quarter to push a slim six-point halftime lead (32-26) to a 45-33 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The key series was forcing four straight Gainesville turnovers to spark a 10-3 run to end the period.
“I thought our defense was excellent for most of the game. I really feel the heart of this team is on the defensive end,” Richerson said.
Hawks, however, would do everything she could to drive a Red Elephants rally. The senior hit five free throws sandwiched around an assist of a Tia Shelton 3-pointer to pull Gainesville within 52-46 with 1:38 left.
But Passmore and McKendree hit 7-of-10 free throws in the final minute to preserve the win.
McKendree finished with 23 points to pace West Hall. Passmore added 15 for the Lady Spartans.
Hawks had a game-high 25, including going 11-of-12 from the foul line, to lead Gainesville. Tija Blackwell added 12 for the Lady Red Elephants.
Gainesville will play Lakeview Academy in the third-place at 3:30 p.m at the Gainesville gym.
FLOWERY BRANCH 70,
LAKEVIEW ACADEMY 48
The height of the Lady Falcons was the difference as they outrebounded Lakeview Academy nearly three-to-one in moving into the finals for the third consecutive season.
Flowery Branch (11-2) dominated the glass in the first quarter pulling down 13 rebounds to just five for the Lady Lions (11-3) and quickly building an 11-2 run. The Lady Falcons defense, specifically Queen Scott, also held Hanna Grogan to just 1-of-3 shooting and two points in the first quarter.
Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez said her group executed the gameplan to near-perfection.
“Queen is our defensive stopper and she did a great job early on,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “I thought we played very well. The girls executed what we wanted to do. The rebounding was a huge key for us and we felt it was an area we could (have an advantage).”
Taniyah Worth and Juliann Sutton dominated in the paint outrebounding Lakeview as a tandem 8-5 in the first quarter.
The Lady Falcons blew it open in the second quarter opening the period with a 14-6 burst for a 32-13 lead. The took a 40-18 lead into halftime and maintained a 20-point-plus lead most of the second half.
Lakeview Academy trimmed a 55-34 deficit down to 60-46 midway through the fourth quarter on a Tori Taylor 3-pointer but couldn’t get any closer.
Worth finished with 20 points and Sutton had 19 to lead Flowery Branch. Caroline Wysocki and Lexi Sengkhammee each had eight points for the Lady Falcons. Scott had six points but held Grogan scoreless in the first quarter.
Grogan would eventually find a rhythm to finish with 16 points but only had four field goals. She was 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Taylor finished with eight for the Lady Lions.
Newton-Gonzalez expects a battle with West Hall as they look to repeat as champions.
“(West Hall) is playing well right now and they have several really good players. We’ll have to play another balanced game to win,” she said.
EAST HALL 49,
East Hall used a 14-3 first quarter to take the lead and then held on in the fourth quarter for the win in the consolation round.
The Lady Vikings (7-6) extended their lead to 29-16 by halftime. Lindsey Caudell ket Chestatee (14-3) in the game scoring 11 of the Lady War Eagles 16 first half points.
In the third quarter Kylah Mize scored all 12 of East Hall’s points and outscored Chestatee 12-9 as the Lady Vikings pushed their lead to 41-25 heading into the fourth quarter. But stormed back in the final period.
Chestatee outscored East Hall 18-8 in the fourth quarter and got as close as six points twice.
Mize finished with a game-high 22 points to lead East Hall, which had seven 3-pointers for the game. Jenny Lopez added 10 points for the Lady Vikings, who were just 6-of-9 from the foul line.
Caudell paced Chestatee with 21 points. The Lady War Eagles hit five 3-pointers and were 11-of-15 on free throws.
East Hall will play North Hall at 12:30 p.m. in the fifth-place game on Friday. Chestatee will take on Johnson at 9:30 a.m. in the seventh-place game.
NORTH HALL 72,
Ansleigh Ferguson led five North Hall players with eight or more points in a lopsided win over the Lady Knights in the consolation round.
Ferguson finished with 14 points as the Lady Trojans opened the game with a 17-0 first quarter. They led 42-3 at halftime.
Taylor Anne Kelley had 13 points, Macy Clark 11, Grace Hollifield nine, and Camilla Howell eight for North Hall.
For Johnson (0-14) the 21 points were a season-high. Tori Smith led the way for the Lady Knights with six points on a pair of 3-pointers.
North Hall will take on East Hall at 12:30 p.m. Friday in the fifth-place game. Johnson will play Chestatee at 9:30 a.m. in the seventh-place game.