GHS girls top Leesburg, advances to regional final

Gainesville's Kayla Lovett shoots the ball over the Leesburg defense during Tuesday's Class 6A, Region 2 semifinal game at The Purple Palace.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:26 p.m.

To beat a team three times in one season is tough enough, to beat it four times with the stakes even higher is a tall task for any school.

And for a half Tuesday night at The Purple Palace, it looked like visiting Leesburg was going to give Gainesville's girls basketball team another tough battle as it did in the district final 10 days ago when it sent it into overtime.

But this time, the Hurricanes turned up the intensity in the second half.

Sophomore Janiah McKay had a game-high 24 points and senior guard Kayla Lovett added 22 as No. 2 Gainesville ran over the Yellow Jackets, 71-56, advancing to its second straight Class 6A, Region 2 final Saturday at Orlando Edgewater.

Ahead by just two (27-25) at half, the Hurricanes (26-1) scored the first nine points of the second half to open an 11-point lead at 36-25. Leesburg (20-8) never pulled within eight points the rest of the way.

“We started out kind of sluggish, but we ended playing the way we needed to play, which is running the ball up and down the floor,” said Gainesville coach David Gordon. “When we got in the third quarter and we were up a couple of points, we decided to spread since they were in man-to-man defense. We have excellent ball handlers, so we figured we could get to the basket a lot more and try to finish it off, and that's what we did.”

Jacksonville signee De'ja McPhee, who had missed four games with an ankle injury and played briefly in last week's win over Inverness Citrus, started on Tuesday. Although she was held to two points in the first half, she finished with 11, scoring nine in the fourth. McKay had three 3-pointers, all in the first half, and Lovett, an Alabama A&M signee, had two treys.

“In the first half I was playing a little timid, but then I realized I had to pick it up for my teammates,” McPhee said. “I decided to stop favoring my ankle and work hard in the second half.”

Gainesville led 12-8 after the first period, and opened a 10-point lead (20-10) after an inside basket from Asya Smith. But Leesburg, behind outstanding play from senior Ashley Perry (19 points), closed the first half on a 15-7 run to pull within two.

“In the first half, we came out hard but then slacked off and allowed them to get back into the game,” McKay said. “Coach told us in the locker room we had to pick it up and were now in a fight because we slacked off. We came out hard and really wanted to win this game.”

For the second straight season, GHS will have to travel to defending state champion Edgewater to play in the regional final. At stake, the Hurricanes' first trip to the state tournament since 1987.

“It feels the same as last year,” Lovett said. “But now it is time to take it to another level. “

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or And follow at

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