It took 17 innings over two games for the Flowery Branch softball team to move past first-round playoff opponent Northwest Whitfield last Friday, a series victory that senior pitcher Alyssa Kimbrell said has done wonders for the Lady Falcons’ confidence as they move further into the postseason.
“It’s just a reminder to us that we can play as hard as we can for 17 innings, and that we won’t give up,” Kimbrell said. “It’s good to have that in the back of your mind.”
The team is now only one series win away from being one of the eight teams in Class 4A to move onto the state tournament in Columbus. A best of three meeting with Madison County — starting with a doubleheader on the road today is all that stands between the Lady Falcons and tournament qualification.
According to head coach Laura Novotny-Beaver, it would be a first for the program since it joined Class 4A.
“I think that it’s an amazing feat for any program to be able to get to Columbus,” Novotny-Beaver said. “Softball in the state of Georgia is some of the best in the country, and to be able to be one of the eight left in high school softball I think shows how strong our program is, how capable this community and these girls are.”
It’s been a successful season for Flowery Branch to this point.
The Lady Falcons were 11-1 in Region 7-4A before falling to Marist in a pair of 1-run games in the region championship series. The team’s regular season output was good enough to earn home field advantage against Northwest Whitfield. But to keep the year alive, Flowery Branch will have to get through perhaps their toughest test yet in Madison County. And this time the Lady Falcons will have to do it on the road.
“They are a very well coached team,” Novotny-Beaver said of the Lady Red Raiders. “They are a very strong team fundamentally. They’ve got quality pitching. They’ve got girls up and down the lineup that can get the job done.”
Still, neither Novotny-Beaver nor her players are intimidated by their upcoming opponent, ranked No. 19 in the state according to Maxpreps.com. The respect is there for Novotny-Beaver, but she still believes her team matches up well in what she anticipates to be a tightly contested series. According to Novotny-Beaver, “it’s going to come down to who can do the little things when needed.”
For Kimbrell, who is likely to draw the start in Game 1 at 5 p.m., it doesn’t matter how good the Lady Red Raiders are. Instead of worrying about her opponents, Kimbrell said she is trying to stay focused on her own team and making sure they play up to their capabilities.
“Honestly, my coaches have been telling me some of the strengths and weaknesses of Madison County,” she said. “But I don’t really want to hear that, because I want to hear that Madison County is going to be as good as any team we face, and that we can face them head on and just don’t have to worry about anything else, and just play our best.”
Taking down the Lady Red Raiders — who haven’t dropped a game in more than a month — will be a tall order. Doing it on the road against a team with plenty of playoff experience — Madison County won three games in Columbus last year — will be even tougher.
But after watching her team battle its way to this point, Novotny-Beaver remains confident that her group has a chance against just about anyone.
“For the last four years in the state playoffs, we’ve been on the road,” Novotny-Beaver said. “And so I think for them, they’re pretty comfortable being in that situation, and I think they’ll rise to the situation like they have before.”