Flowery Branch will be facing a familiar opponent when it makes its first appearance in the Class AAAAA girls basketball championship game on Thursday.
That’s the good news. The bad news? The opponent is Buford, the defending state champions and the arch-nemesis of Flowery Branch. The two teams have played six times over the last two seasons and Buford has won every game.
Buford (28-3) will meet Flowery Branch (25-6) for the fourth time this season for the Class AAAAA girls championship on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Macon Coliseum. The game will be followed by the boys championship game between Miller Grove (23-7) and Warner Robins (27-3).
“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Flowery Branch coach Courtney Newton-Gonzalez. “We know them, they know us. We’ve had a lot of battles against each other. We also know we’ve got a good opportunity and we’re excited about playing 32 minutes of good basketball.”
Two of the three games this year have been close. “And one we did not show up,” Newton-Gonzalez said. Buford won 58-48 at home and 69-38 at Flowery Branch. The Wolves won 49-41 in the Region 8 championship game.
“We’ve got to play a whole 32 minutes against them,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “Because they make you pay when you have a breakdown.”
Flowery Branch has an experienced team. Guard Lexie Sengkhammee and all-state forward Taniyah Worth have played a lot of games – Senghkhammee has started 120 in her career. Juniors Ashley Woodroffe and Caroline Sysocki and freshman Ashlee Locke made up an imposing lineup.
The Falcons were able to eliminate Harris County in the semifinals. They were losing by 15 points in the first quarter – as Worth picked up two quick fouls and barely played -- but came back to win by 17.
“We kept chipping away and chipping away,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “They continued to fight and battle and showed a lot of heart.”
The Branch was able to put pressure on the Harris County guards and prevent them from getting the ball inside to Jessika Parker, a Mississippi State signee who had dominated the playoffs.
But Buford isn’t a one-girl team like Harris County. Although guard Tori Ozment, a Michigan State signee, is the best player on the team, she isn’t the lone point producer. The Wolves have numerous offensive threats – guard Audrey Weiner scored 20 points in the semifinal win over Villa Rica -- and generate a lot of their points from their aggressive, wall-to-wall defensive pressure.
“We know what we’ve got to because we’ve played Buford,” Newton-Gonzalez said. “You have to handle the pressure and limit the turnovers. We’ve got to be able to do that and play hard.”
Buford will be playing for a championship for the eighth time in the last 10 years. The Wolves have won five state championships, including the 2017 title.