The state championship dream for the Carrollton High School girls' basketball team ran into a roadblock on Tuesday night in the form of a formidable Flowery Branch foe in the quarterfinal round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
After playing even for eight minutes, the visiting Lady Falcons took control of the contest and never let go, pulling away for a stunning 61-46 victory.
Second-seeded and fourth-ranked Flowery Branch (24-6) broke open a 13-all first quarter by scoring the first five points of the second period and closing on a 9-3 run to take a 31-23 lead into the locker room.
The top-seeded and third-ranked Lady Trojans (29-2), facing a second halftime deficit in as many games, also endured early foul trouble for the second straight game, as four players had two fouls apiece by halftime, including the post trio of Kim McKinney, Elexus Bell and Erial Daniel.
Carrollton never could get out of its funk, committing three straight turnovers to open the second half and falling behind by 19 entering the fourth quarter after momentarily cutting the deficit to 13 midway through the quarter.
Flowery Branch, which is making its first state semifinal appearance in program history, put the game away in the fourth, building as big as a 24-point lead before the Lady Trojans finished on a 9-0 run for the final 15-point margin.
Carrollton head coach Shon Thomaston tipped his cap to Flowery Branch for out-playing his squad, noting that it was a tough way to close an otherwise tremendous season.
"We never could find a rhythm early in the ballgame. It was kind of the same way we started out in that game against Fayette County [in the second round]. The first two or three trips down the floor the whistle blows and we foul a couple of times and key people are having to go to the bench and sit for a quarter and a half and we're never able to find a rhythm," Thomaston said.
"But a whole lot of credit to Flowery Branch. They came in here and just like we knew they were a good team, they did what good teams do. They played well, they played within themselves and they deserved to win the game. I don't want to take anything away from my kids. We played with a lot of effort, but we didn't execute very well on either end. At the same time, I'm not going to sit here and hit my kids over the head. The season that we just had was awesome. Of course, that's a blow to us emotionally. It hurts a whole lot because we really felt like we had a team that could do a little bit more than what we did. We just came up short."
Flowery Branch head coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez expected an aggressive defensive mentality from Carrollton and she wanted to neutralize it by applying pressure attacking the basket.
"We knew we had to counteract that with being aggressive on offense, and I'm proud of how we were strong with the ball and finished in the paint and knocked down some shots on the perimeter," Newton-Gonzalez said.
The main weapon in that arsenal was junior forward Taniyah Worth, who finished with a team-high 17 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks and three assists. Worth proved to be a handful all evening, tallying 11 points and nine rebounds in the first half to set the tone for the visitors.
"She played well. We were real proud of her. When she knocks down shots early, she kind of gets her feet underneath her and I was proud of the way she played," Newton-Gonzalez said.
Offensively, Carrollton simply never could get in sync, as every glimpse of making a run quickly soured, keeping it at a double-digit deficit the entire second half. The only leads of the evening for the Lady Trojans came late in the first quarter at 11-9 and 13-11.
"It seemed like nothing went right. When we got a shot, we couldn't get anything to go in. The free-throw line was hit or miss. Defensively, we got beat off the dribble time and time again," Thomaston said. "A good team will expose when you're not doing things sound. Like I said, I'm not going to sit here and take anything away from my kids because they battled all year long. I wish I could have done something a little bit better to put them in a better position to have a better chance to get a different outcome. I didn't do that as a coach, so I'll take a whole lot of the blame for the way we performed."
Along with the strong showing from Worth, Flowery Branch placed Caroline Wysocki and Janoah Williams in double-figures offensively with 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Ashley Woodroffe and Queen Scott both posted eight points.
The Lady Falcons move on to face defending Class AAAAA state champion Southwest DeKalb in the state semifinals on Saturday at Columbus State.
The Lady Trojans, who were making a third consecutive elite eight appearance, will use the experience to build for next season for the returning players and celebrate the seniors for everything they achieved during their time donning the Black and Gold.
"I'm glad that our seniors got a chance to finish their careers and I can definitely say that they gave it their all and left everything on the court," Thomaston said. "Even in this game [Tuesday], they left it all out there."
Story by Corey Cusick
Reprinted from Times-Georgian