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Flowery Branch softball knocked from tourney

POSTED: September 27, 2012 10:32 p.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Flowery Branch right fielder Brittany Canavan prepares to throw the ball to teammate Casey Zoeller during the Lady Falcons' game with Salem High Thursday afternoon at the Flowery Branch softball field.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — A good season ended on a bad note for the Flowery Branch softball team.

A day after finally cracking the coaches poll as the 10th-ranked team in Class AAAAA, the Lady Falcons could hardly touch the Salem pitching in Round 2 of the Region 8-AAAAA tournament, falling 8-0 and 8-1 to be eliminated from the tournament and see the season come to a sooner-than-expected end.

Flowery Branch (16-14) entered as the No. 3 seed, while the No. 6 Seminoles (10-15) needed a win over No. 7 Gainesville on Tuesday just to have the chance to play the Lady Falcons.

But it was Salem that clinched a spot in the state playoffs and a date with No. 2 Heritage on Monday in Round 3.

“We lost eight games by two runs or less, and we knew that we had a good team,” said Salem coach Ronnie Miller. “We told the girls that we’re going to peak and then we’ll see what we’re made of, and we started peaking with Gainesville.”

The Seminoles were peaking, while the Falcons were reeling from the loss of two key pieces of the lineup in the last week, putting leadoff hitter Kelly Kahlert and cleanup hitter Madison Whitmire out of commission for the crucial series.

Flowery Branch assistant coach Geoff Chaffin said the coaching staff tried to make the best of the situation.

“We were hoping that it would be the catalyst that got us going,” he said. “But it was the elephant on the wall.”

Without the two key hitters, which had combined for four RBIs and three runs in the last meeting between the two teams — a 9-1 Falcons win — the Seminoles pitchers shut down the home team. Whitney Lester kept Flowery Branch off the board and struck out three over six innings to earn the run-rule shortened win in the opener.

Fellow Seminoles pitcher Rylee Rogers, who had a home run in the first game, allowed just one run over seven innings, along with nine strikeouts, to clinch the series win.

The Salem offense gave her all the cushion she would need in the second inning, taking advantage of a couple of Flowery Branch’s five errors for the night to put three runs on the board. Peyton Canty started the scoring with a single to drive in a run, and after a second score on an error, Lester laced an RBI triple to put Salem ahead 3-0.

Rogers took a perfect game into the fourth, but Bailey Sims reached second for the Falcons on an error, and Jessica Thomas followed with a single to right field.

Sims later ran home on a wild pitch later in the inning for Flowery Branch’s only run of the night.

Falcons pitcher Jessica Thomas took the loss in the first game, and Jessica Gunter in the second. Gunter pitched 5 1/3 innings before being relieved by Taylor Mooney, who finished out the game.

Rogers allowed just four hits in the complete game, and was excited to play Rockdale County rival Heritage next.

“Once we got off the bus for the first game, we were pumped, ready to go,” she said. “I don’t think anybody expected this from us. Now we want to play Heritage.”

Flowery Branch may not have expected the season to end so soon, but Chaffin said it was still the best season he’s been a part of in his five years with the club.

“This is the first time, top to bottom, we’ve played as a team, played as one unit,” said Chaffin, who added that, despite needing to replace four senior starters, the Falcons will be well prepared to make another run next season.

“We’ve got some spots to fill, but a great core is coming up behind.”


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