In a battle of two star players, Gainesville withstood a late Columba rally to pull out a 70-62 win to take the 6A District 3 Tournament title on Friday night.
The Hurricanes (14-7) held a 64-60 lead with 2:02 left in spite of making only 3-of-11 free throws in the final frame. Gainesville’s Leyah Houston grabbed a free throw miss and scored on the putback with 1:45 remaining to give the ‘Canes a 66-60 edge.
The game pitted two of the region’s top players as Houston led Gainesville with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists while Columbia’s Na’Haviya Paxton had 29 points, 11 rebounds, nine steals, eight assists and two blocks.
Top seeded Gainesville went ahead 38-27 at the half, but Columbia (7-14) got within 44-43 late in the third quarter before the Tigers went on a 9-1 run to close the period up 53-44.
“That’s the best we’ve played this year in reference to maintaining and keeping it going,” Gainesville head coach David Gordon said. “Sometimes we started withering away and letting them come back in the game and made it tougher than it has to be.”
While the Hurricanes outrebounded visiting Columbia 41 to 38, GHS turned the ball over 28 times to 15 for the Tigers.
“In the third and fourth quarters, we got a little lackadaisical and didn’t protect the ball,” Gordon said.
On the flip side, Columbia head coach Anthony Perry was proud of his team’s effort.
“We didn’t execute well enough on our defensive end, but we still ended up getting back in the game late in the third [quarter] and then in the fourth,” Perry said. “ It’s just so frustrating once again that everything is stacked against us.
“It seems like the calls that were made – not the ones that were going to Lake City that were obvious – let’s just say it that way. And it gets the girls frustrated. But even with all that, we battled back to get within one (in the third quarter), it showed character and heart. And I’m proud about that.”
Columbia went 21-of-37 from the free throw line and Gainesville was 17-of-35.
For Gainesville, Ta’Niya Walker scored 12 points and 12 rebounds, Awyna Carter had 11 points and five rebounds, Imari Keenon had 10 points and Neyanna Ross scored six points, had 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
For the Tigers, Annzarria Jerkins scored nine points, nine steals and four rebounds; Keturah Taylor had eight blocks, five rebounds and 2 steals; Camille Perry scored 14 points, snagged five rebounds and 3 steals; and Joleana Gardner grabbed nine rebounds, had six points and three blocks.
Gainesville will host a regional contest Thursday with the team to be determined.