GAINESVILLE — It was a streak the Gainesville girls had not been accustomed to as a program.
The Lady Red Elephants snapped a six-year championship drought with a dominating 52-37 win over East Hall Wednesday in the finals of the 2020 Lanierland Tournament on Wednesday at the Gainesville gym.
Gainesville (9-5) had not hoisted the trophy since capturing back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. In most recent years they had finished in the bottom half of the field. They came in as a No. 5 seed for the 2020 tournament.
Third-year coach Alan Griffin said it was the first step in bringing the program back to prominence. The win already surpasses last year’s entire win total before the new year.
“Last year was part of the process,” Griffin said. “This is huge for us to show that we’re making progress. I’m so happy for the girls. They have worked so hard since last season. To beat last year before January means a lot to us.”
The Lady Red Elephants used a quick, tenacious defense to take control. They also took the Lady Vikings (9-4) out of their usual offensive flow.
“They were tough on defense and beat us in transition. That’s where the game was won I believe,” East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said. “We’re very happy to have gotten back to the championship game. We’re having a good season and we’re going to regroup from this and get ready for the rest of the year.”
Youth was a key for Gainesville. Sophomores Keke Jones and Zaria Williams helped produce nearly two dozen East Hall turnovers, including almost a dozen steals, and combined for 29 points. A Jones steal and later 3-pointer capped an 11-2 run in the first and second quarters for a 16-7 lead and East Hall never got closer than six the rest of the way.
“We have a lot of young talent and they have improved a lot since last year,” Griffin said. “We also have some experienced seniors that give us a really good mix.”
Senior Lauren Teasley poured in 16 points to lead Gainesville along with Jones (16 points) and also garnered the Tournament MVP.
Both teams struggled on offense in the first few minutes with the score tied at just 2 until they traded 3-pointers with 3:11 left in the first quarter.
But Gainesville finally found a groove using its defense to force three straight East Hall turnovers to spark an 11-2 run into the second quarter for a 16-7 lead capped by a Keke Jones 3-pointer.
East Hall went away from its usual 3-point offense to find some seams in the Lady Red Elephants defense with back-to-back driving layups by Maleah Harrison and Audrey Griffin to cut the lead to 21-15.
But Williams and Jones sparked another late 9-1 run with three steals to push Gainesville’s lead to 30-16 at the break.
Gainesville did not let up in the third quarter using an 11-6 spurt to push the lead to 41-22, its biggest of the game, heading into the fourth quarter.
Harrison paced East Hall with 14 points. Callie Dale finished with 9 points and Griffin 8 for the Lady Vikings.
Williams had 13 for Gainesville and Sadie Roach chipped in 7 for the Lady Red Elephants.
NORTH HALL 40
Emma Easterwood poured in 21 points, 17 coming in the second and third quarters, to lead the Lady War Eagles to a win over rival North Hall in the third-place game.
The Lady War Eagles trailed 12-9 after the first quarter but Easterwood scored 9 in the second and 8 in the third as they pulled even at 24 by halftime and outscored the Lady Trojans 12-3 in the third to take a 36-27 lead.
North Hall staged a late comeback of its own getting to within 44-40 in the final minute but Chestatee put the game away at the free-throw line down the stretch.
Logan Wiggins chipped in 10 points for Chestatee.
Rylee McCall and Rylee Thompson each had 9 points to pace North Hall. Kristina Peach had 5 points, all at the free-throw line, for the Lady Trojans.
CHEROKEE BLUFF 57,
FLOWERY BRANCH 50 OT
Cherokee Bluff and Flowery Branch needed an extra frame to decide the 5th place winner.
Bluff, behind Alexis Mize -- 9 points in OT -- and a stingy defense in overtime, pulled away late to beat the Lady Falcons in the fifth-place game. The Bears outpaced Branch in overtime 13-6.
But the two rivals didn't back down exchanging blow after to blow with each other in the final frame.
Branch led the entire game, 25-24 at the half and 35-29 at the end of the third quarter.
But the back and forth began midway through the fourth quarter when Bluff's Ella Freeman tied the game at 37 with 3:53 to go, then the Lady Falcons pushed it back up three, 40-37, off a couple of foul shots from Morgan Aguilar and one from Shaina Kriews with 3 minutes left.
Bluff's Taylor Click answered a few seconds later with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game again, 40-40 and hit a two-point bucket to go ahead 42-40.
After the Bluff went up 42-40, Kriews hit one of two free throws to cut the Bears lead 42-41 with under a minute play. Bella Brick pushed the Branch ahead on the next trip down the floor with a 3-pointer, giving the Lady Falcons a 44-42 lead with 18 seconds to go in regulation.
Timber Gaither, however, ripped the ball away and took it in for the tying score with less than 10 seconds to go, 44-44.
In overtime, Mize gave the Lady Bears the lead in the first 20 seconds and extended it on a 3-point play, 49-44. Branch fought back to tie it 49-49 off a Brick 3-point play, but Cook and Mize extended the lead, 55-49, to put the game out of reach.
Gaither paced the Bears with 13 points and Mize finished with 11. Brick hit a game-high 18 points to lead the Falcons and Aguilar had 15 points.
WEST HALL 31
Joelle Snyder was hard to stop as she poured in 31 points, 21 from 3-point land, to lead Lakeview Academy past West Hall, 58-31, on Wednesday at Gainesville High School.
The win gives the Lady Lions the No. 7 seed and keeps them out of the 2021 Lanierland play-in game, while West Hall finishes 8th.
After a slow pace first quarter that ended with Lakeview up 7-4, the Lady Lions behind a 13-point performance from Snyder pushed their lead to 29-12.
The second-quarter flurry set the pace for the rest of the game as the Lady Lions outscored West Hall 29-19 in the second half.
Sarah Nivens scored 9 points in the win, while Mackenzie White led the Lady Spartans will 11 points and Riley Harkin had 9 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
West Hall will play Johnson in next year's play-in game.