Nearly 29 minutes into Gainesville’s Region 1-6A girls basketball quarterfinal against Niceville on Thursday night, the Hurricanes trailed by four points and had not made a shot behind the 3-point arc.
Senior Breanna Evans banked in a 3-pointer and junior Jocelyn Wallace hit two shots in a row from distance, including one with 45 seconds left that put Gainesville (15-7) ahead for good as the Hurricanes slipped by Niceville, 48-45, at the Purple Palace.
“We started a little slow in the second half, ” Gainesville first-year coach Jazlynd Rollins said. “We picked it up in the fourth quarter and once we decided we could win this game we punched back, and it happened.”
The game was a game of runs for the first three quarters. A low-scoring opening period saw Gainesville ahead 10-9 with senior Leyah Houston leading Gainesville with four points.
The second quarter was more of the same. Niceville (18-7) went ahead 15-13 before the Hurricanes went on a 10-0 run in the last three minutes of the period to take a 23-15 halftime lead.
Niceville came out quickly in the third quarter. Even with their leading scorer junior Anna Kimball on the bench for most of the period with three fouls, the Eagles outscored the Hurricanes 18-6 and took a 33-29 lead going into the final period.
The game seesawed back-and-forth with Niceville leading most of the quarter, but then Evans banked in the first 3-pointer and Wallace hit two from the left and right wings to put Gainesville ahead for good.
“Those shots at the end were shots that she (Wallace) needed to take,” Rollins said. “She’s a fighter. I told her to stay confident and take your shots and drive to the basket and she did.”
Houston led Gainesville with 13 points. Wallace and sophomore Jayden Terry added 10 points apiece.
For Rollins — coaching in her first year at Gainesville after playing at Buchholz High School and then Rutgers University — she was just happy to get her first playoff win.
“I was a little nervous at first, but the team played hard and they have worked hard all season,” Rollins said. “I’m very excited about how we came back tonight, and we will have another game next week.” No. 3 seed Gainesville hosts Land O’Lakes on Tuesday. Despite being the No. 7 seed, Land O’Lakes was at home and knocked off No. 2 seed Nease (Ponte Vedra), 65-51, on Thursday.
Regional Quarterfinals – Thursday, Feb. 9
Class 6A-Region 1
No. 3 Gainesville 48, No. 6 Niceville 45
Class 3A-Region 1
No. 1 Providence (Jacksonville) 58, No. 8 Bradford (Starke) 46
No. 2 P.K. Yonge 57, No. 7 Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) 27
Class 2A-Region 1
No. 2 North Florida Educational Institute (Jacksonville) 55, No. 7 Oak Hall School 37
Class 1A-Region 3
No. 1 Hawthorne 61, No. 4 Madison County 50
No. 2 Newberry 57, No. 3 Hilliard 45
Class 1A-Region 4
No. 2 Trenton 32, No. 3 Williston 28