GAINESVILLE — The championship game of the 61st edition of Lanierland is set, but the two teams in it probably weren't the two anyone expected.
Tied 56-56 with 11 seconds left, Gainesville's Keke Jones hit a runner in the lane to knock off top-seeded North Hall, 58-56, setting up an improbable championship showdown between the fifth and seventh-seeded teams in the tournament.
"The ball found Keke's hands there late," Gainesville coach Alan Griffin said. "But Keke loves basketball. When the gym is open, she is here until you kick her out. She's a team player. She's a sophomore. She's 5 foot nothing, and she just loves the game and plays as hard as she can."
Both teams traded buckets early on before North Hall ended the first period on a 12-1 run to take a 22-14 lead. The Red Elephants battled back to cut the lead to one late in the first half, but North Hall went on another run, this time a 7-0 stretch, to extend the lead back out before halftime.
North Hall held a nine-point lead early in the third before Gainesville stormed into the lead with a 14-3 run before the fourth quarter added all the drama.
"We had points in transition tonight," Griffin said. "Our players that we look to step up, stepped up for us tonight."
Gainesville never lost the lead in the fourth period, but the game was tied 50-50 midway through the period and was a one-possession game for the majority of the period. North Hall had the ball with 32 seconds to play, but a turnover gave Gainesville possession to go for the win.
"We play so hard and as long as we keep giving ourselves chances to win on defense, we find ways to find offense," Griffin said. "We're not the best offensive team. We struggle to find a rhythm on offense, but on defense, we flat get after it. It was just a great team effort. The ball found Keke's hands there late and we get to play tomorrow."
Gainesville's Jones and Lauren Teasley led the way with 16 points apiece and Saide Roach finished with 12. North Hall's Kristina Peach also put up 16.
The fifth-seeded Red Elephants will take on East Hall tomorrow night for the Lanierland championship. North Hall will take on Chestatee in the third-place matchup.
"They shoot the ball well and have some guards that can really slash the paint," Griffin said about East Hall. "I think Justin [Wheeler] is one of the better defensive coaches in the state, so he'll have a defense that is ready for us. We're going to have to be ready to play on our toes. We know we'll get a lot of different looks from there, adjust to defensive pressure, knock down some shots and handle the moment."
EAST HALL 38,
Don't call it a Cinderella story.
A late 12-0 run for the seventh-seeded East Hall's girls, gave the Vikings the lead when it mattered, defeating Chestatee, 38-36, Tuesday afternoon in the Lanierland semifinals.
The 17-time champion Vikings didn't give up when trailing by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, causing chaos over the entire floor that led to a final possession down by a single point with 21 seconds. After finding driving lanes, the ball ended up in the hands of Maleah Harrison outside for a three that gave the Vikings their first lead since it was 1-0.
"Harrison up’d her game in the second half," East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said. "She became more aggressive and attacked the basket well. She gave us a big lift and of course, hit a massive 3-pointer to put us ahead with just seconds remaining."
After East Hall scored the game's first point, the War Eagles took control of the game, going on an 8-3 run to end the first quarter. Chestatee stretched their lead to as many as 11 prior to halftime with Bowen Corley hitting an exclamation point 3-pointer at the end of the half to send the momentum to the War Eagles into halftime.
East Hall made defensive adjustments that stifled Chestatee early in the second half, leading to a 7-0 Viking run capped by an Audrey Griffin 3-pointer that triggered a timeout from the War Eagles. Logan Wiggins began to take over for the War Eagles out of the timeout, scoring eight of the next 10 points for the home team in the period.
"Applying more pressure definitely helped us late in the game," Wheeler said. "It allowed us to increase the tempo and force a few turnovers."
After the Vikings took the lead with four seconds left, Chestatee's game-tying attempt from 18 feet fell short, pushing East Hall to the final.
Harrison finished with 14 points to lead the way for East Hall. Chestatee's Logan Wiggins ended with a game-high 17 points.
The Vikings will look for their 18th Lanierland championship tomorrow night against Gainesville, while Chestatee will battle for third place against the loser Wednesday afternoon.
"It is nice to be back in the title game and always an honor to compete for a championship," Wheeler said. "They [Gainesville] are solid on offense and defense. They are a scrappy bunch, so it will be a good test for us. It’s been a while since East Hall and Gainesville were both in the championship game, so it should be a fun one for both teams and fans."
FLOWERY BRANCH 69,
Shaina Kriews scored 25 points and Ashlee Locke had 18 to lead Flowery Branch girls past Lakeview on Tuesday in the consolation round of the bracket at Gainesville High School.
Lakeview jumped out to a 15-10 lead in the first quarter but the Lady Falcons rallied behind eight Locke points to tie the game by the end of the first quarter.
But the second quarter is where it got out of hand for the Lady Lions. Kriews scored 10 of her 25 points in the quarter and Morgan Aguilar, which finished with 10 points, had 7 points to blow it open by halftime, 39-10.
Joelle Synder led the Lions with 22 points -- 18 from 3-point land.
Flowery Branch will play the winner of the Cherokee Bluff-West Hall game for 5th place on Wednesday. Lakeview will play the loser of the Bluff-West Hall game for 7th place.
CHEROKEE BLUFF 54,
WEST HALL 16
Cherokee Bluff held West Hall to just four second-half points en route to the blowout win in the consolation round of the Lanierland Tournament on Tuesday at Gainesville High School.
Timber Gaither led the Lady Bears with 15, while Kaitlin Cook had 8 points.
Adriana Lipscomb led West Hall with 8.
Bluff will play Flowery Branch for 5th place on Wednesday, while West Hall will play Lakeview in the 7th place game.
The championship game of the 61st edition of Lanierland is set, but the two teams in it probably weren't the two anyone expected.