Mitchell, Tarver lead Seminoles past Gainesville

Salem’s Taylor King gets set on defense Friday against Gainesville.

Salem’s Taylor King gets set on defense Friday against Gainesville.

It had been a long time since the Salem girls basketball team had been truly tested when Gainesville came to Conyers Friday. After a tense first 3 1/2 quarters, the Seminoles ultimately passed the test.

Ayanna Mitchell and Shay Tarver combined for 27 second-half points and Salem got by Gainesville 64-58 in the regular season finale.

Salem (21-2) finished with a perfect 16-0 league record and heads into next week’s Region 8-AAAAA Tournament as the top seed and on a 19-game winning streak.

Mitchell, an unsigned junior who attracted the attention of University of Georgia coach Andy Landers, who sat court side Friday, had 16 of her points in the second half and Tarver added nine of her 18 in the fourth quarter. That was the game-turning period as Salem erased a one-point deficit with a 12-3 run that was capped by Taylor King’s 3-pointer at the 2:39 mark.

The Seminoles led 59-51 after that long-range shot, the last of King’s 14 points. The visitors from Hall County got as close as 61-58 on a 3-pointer from Kayla Kelly with 37 seconds to go.

Taylor Hawks led Gainesville (19-6, 12-4), which finished as the region’s No. 2 seed, with 17 points, though just six came after halftime.

Gainesville led by as much as 28-23 late in the first half. Jennifer Tindi’s lay up with 11 seconds to go in the half made it a two-point game at halftime, and Salem started the third by scoring the first six points, taking a 31-28 lead on Mitchell’s lay up.

It was an extremely tight third quarter and the Red Elephants pulled even on three separate occasions, including when Hawks’ put back with one second left made it 45-45.

Tarver’s 3-pointer 1:35 into the fourth, the point guard’s first field goal since 4:55 remained in the first, put Salem up 50-48. Mitchell followed with a put back, and though Tamia Rucker had the last of her 11 points on a steal and lay up to make it 52-50, Gainesville never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

Mitchell didn’t have a field goal attempt before grabbing an offensive rebound and converting a lay up with two seconds to go in the opening quarter. That gave Salem a 12-7 lead, and Mitchell added two more buckets early in the second as the Seminoles still held a 16-11 cushion 1 with 6 1/2 minutes to go in the half.

Gainesville controlled much of the rest of the second, thanks in large part to Hawks. She had seven of her 11 first-half points during a 2 1/2 minute stretch, including a 3-pointer she banked in at the 3:45 mark that put the Red Elephants up 21-20. Salem grabbed the lead back briefly at 22-21 on Tindi’s put back, but Gainesville scored seven of the last 10 points of the half and led 28-25 at the break.

It looked as if the Gainesville boys would cruise in the nightcap, but the visitors’ 17-point lead evaporated and Salem squeaked by with a 61-58 victory.

Gainesville (13-10, 6-8 Region 8-AAAAA) took its largest lead at 33-16 on a Sam Carpenter 3-pointer late in the opening half, Soon after, Salem’s Demyon Greenwood was lackadaisical in going for a loose ball and Nam Van Dulm converted an easy lay up for Gainesville at the other end.

Greenwood was a different player after that.

He closed the second quarter with three points, including a put back, and Kristopher Bridgeman added a three-point play and the Seminoles trailed just 37-27 at halftime.

Greenwood and Bridgeman led the way in the third, combining for 15 of Salem’s 19 points. While Gainesville spent the period hitting just four field goals, Bridgeman had seven straight Salem points during one stretch, and late in the quarter Greenwood had three offensive rebounds, which led to a pair of free throws, a lay up and a thunderous follow dunk at the one-minute mark that got Salem the closest it had been to that point at 47-46.

The Red Elephants built a lead again at the start of the fourth, going up 51-46 on Van Dulm’s bucket at the 6:24 mark.

Salem (7-18, 4-12) fought back once more as Bridgeman had a lay up and Quintavius Byrd had eight of his game-high 24 points during a 14-4 spurt that put the hosts up 60-56 with two minutes to play.

It was 60-58 after a bucket by Cedric Bryant, then Byrd made 1 of 2 from the line for a three-point lead.

Gainesville had two chances to tie. First, Luke Maddox missed a 3-pointer and though the Red Elephants grabbed the loose ball and called time out with 4.4 seconds for one last shot, Maddox missed again.

“We’ve been trying to get over that hump where we’ve been down and fought our way back, but come up a little short. So it was good tonight (to) get over that hump and get the ‘W’,” said Salem coach Noah Harrell, whose team will be the region tournament’s No. 7 seed and play county rival and second-seeded Heritage in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

After a fairly even opening quarter, Gainesville got some separation in the second. The Hall County school hit four 3-pointers in a 4 1/2 minute stretch, including Maddox’s third form downtown, though that turned out to be his last, at the 5:12 mark.

Carpenter, Bryant and Maddox each scored nine points to lead the Red Elephants, who will be the No. 5 seed and play fourth-seeded Cedar Shoals Wednesday .