September 23, 2021

Lady Braves primed for region title tilt in Franklin

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Lady Braves took care of business at home versus Temple in Wednesday night’s Region 5-AA semifinal, taking down the Lady Tigers by a lopsided final score of 64-39.

The win sets up a Region 5-AA Championship game tonight in Franklin where the Lady Braves will meet rival Callaway for the third time this season.

Callaway was likewise impressive while cruising to an easy win over Haralson County in the other semifinal matchup.

Freshman Jayden Boykin led the way for the Lady Braves in the semifinal — scoring 16 to go along with five assists and five steals. Sophomore Jasmine Owens scored 14 and senior Hermonie Garza had 13 points.

Senior Briana Labaff had a nice game with four points off the bench as Coach Helen Akins was able to rest her starting five for the majority of the second half.

The large Brave Nation crowd in attendance was extra excited to see the very popular backup players for the Lady Braves get some quality minutes in the playoffs with the highlight coming on a basket by freshman Karleigh Smith, her first career points, in the closing moments of the fourth quarter.

Senior Briana Labaff (Photo: Juliann Carpenter)

Natalie Schneider also connected on a nice 3-point basket while Carmaya Swint and Camille Gaskins each had buckets.

Zekylah Boyd once again led the way defensively with seven steals to go along with her nine points scored.

“Zekylah is just the best defensive player I have ever coached,” says Akins of the athletic junior that also stars on the Lady Braves softball team.

Akins was proud of the great collective team effort and seeing her girls support one another in the semifinal.

“It was just a great win and a great game for our team. This team has such great chemistry and they cheer for each other no matter who is playing or who is sitting,” said Akins after the game.

“It’s just a special group of kids to be around and I feel so small around them because they are so big together and their personality is so big — I feel lucky to be a part of that.”

Akins knows her team faces a tall challenge in a Callaway team that handed her squad its only region loss of the season in Lagrange just a couple of weeks ago.

The Lady Cavs pulled off a 58-53 win to even things up in the season series after the Lady Braves won the first matchup 48-40 in Franklin on January 19.

While both teams are now assured of hosting a first round state playoff game next week, Coach Akins believes winning the region crown is very important in and of itself and she also knows that the higher seed for state is very important with the No. 1 seed likely earning an easier path to the state quarterfinals.

The winner of tonight’s game will host Region 8-AA’s No. 4 seed Union County in round one while the loser will host a higher quality opponent in Banks County who sports 16 total wins this season.

Akins recognizes the matchup problems her smaller lineup will face against a Lady Cavalier team with a large size advantage inside.

“We’ve beaten them once and they have beaten us once. They have some big and athletic kids and they are a very good basketball team. There is a lot of mutual respect between our programs and I think both teams will show up and play hard tonight.”

The Lady Brave coach says despite the Cavs’ size advantage, one of the hallmarks of her team is an ability to execute varying game plans versus different types of opponents.

“You just have show up and play — we do have a large task tonight, but I think our team is special in that we don’t play every team the same way all the time. I think our kids are really smart. We each have a job and a game plan every night that we have to execute — and while we are smart enough — we still have to show up and do it.”

The Lady Braves’ last region crown came in 2017 and senior Hermonie Garza is excited to have the opportunity along with her fellow seniors to play for a region trophy as her high school career winds to a close in the coming weeks.

“I’m kind of nervous, but I am also excited because this will be my first time playing for a Region Championship,” says Garza. “I am especially excited to do it with my other senior girls Sophia and Briana.”

Garza says team speed is one of the qualities they need to take advantage of against the taller Callaway girls.

“I think the key is for us just to be focused, have confidence, and shut down their bigs. We just need to play our game and play fast so they can’t keep up with us,” states Garza.

The No. 9 ranked Lady Braves (18-4) and the Lady Cavs (11-6) both finished the regular season with identical 7-1 region records, but the Lady Braves received the important home court advantage following a coin flip at the region coaches meeting last Sunday.

Tonight’s game is slated for 8:00 PM after the third place game between Temple and Haralson County which tips at 6:00 PM.

Temple and Haralson will each face huge challenges and long road trips next week with the loser traveling to meet No. 1 ranked Elbert County while the winner will travel to face No. 3 ranked Rabun County.

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