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High school softball: Hurricane Michael impacts early-round games for state playoffs
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Flowery Branch pitcher Alyssa Kimbrell delivers a pitch for the Falcons during the second inning of their game with Chestatee Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, at the Chestatee High softball field. - photo by Scott Rogers

The state softball playoffs are underway, but the looming effects of Hurricane Michael — a category 4 storm that hit the Florida Panhandle early Wednesday — have already forced some area teams to wait a little longer to play their first-round games. 

Buford High of the Class 5A, Flowery Branch (Class 4A) and East Hall High (Class 3A) were three area teams forced to postpone their Wednesday first-round doubleheaders due to inclement weather in the forecast. With rain showers pushing in Wednesday evening, and possible wind gusts of 30 mph-or-higher projected to affect parts of metro-Atlanta for Thursday, it only made sense for the coaches to push games to Friday afternoon — and Saturday for any Game 3 scenario.

As a result, the No. 2 seeded Lady Falcons (14-12) host Northwest Whitfield for a first-round doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex. Meanwhile, top-seeded East Hall (18-9) welcomes Couhulla Creek to East Hall Park, Game 1 commences at 11 a.m. on Friday. Buford will host four-seeded Southwest Dekalb in the first round at 2 p.m. on Friday in Buford.

“(Us coaches) have been around long enough to know that you can only do what you can do,” Flowery Branch coach Laura Novotny-Beaver said of the circumstances.

In a statement released on the GHSA website, coaches are urged to play all first-round series by Saturday, Oct. 13. But all have permission to extend the first round into next week if necessary. However, all first and second-round series must be completed by end of day on Saturday, Oct. 20, the GHSA added.

While the sudden change in schedule has limited the team’s practice routine somewhat, it has been business as usual for Novotny-Beaver’s Lady Falcons, who are in their fifth-straight postseason appearance but get to host a best-of-three series at home for the first time. The longtime coach said they have been fortunate to have the resources that include two indoor hitting nets, indoor balls and pitching mats on hand inside the school’s gymnasium, allowing the players to work on the fundamentals off the softball diamond. 

Unlike Northwest Whitfield, Flowery Branch will not have to endure the stress of a 2 ½ hour bus ride, which could disrupt the flow of preparation according to Novotny-Beaver.

“They don’t seem nervous, they don’t seem anxious or worried,” Novotny-Beaver added. “You know, last night we had our team dinner like we always have, and played cornhole too. ... We’re kind of rolling with the punches, and we’re getting what little work we can get inside.” 

The Lady Falcons also have the luxury of senior leadership within the team that includes starting pitcher Alyssa Kimbrell and third baseman Alexis Nixon, both four-year staples for Flowery Branch with plenty of playoff experience. Since Novotny-Beaver took over the program in 2010, the Lady Falcons have reached the second round twice (2015, 2016). 

In order to match — if not — top that feat, Flowery Branch must first get past the Tunnel Hill-based Bruins, a No. 3 seed out of tough Region 6-4A and a program that previously won back-to-back state titles in 2012-13. Regardless, this is not a time of the season to take anyone for granted, Novotny-Beaver said.

“By the time you’re in the postseason, you’re way past looking ahead. You gotta just focus on getting it done — pretty much one game at a time for us.”

As for Josh Joiner’s Lady Vikings, they enter the state playoffs on the heels of a third-straight Region 7-3A title. After falling one game short of a first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals last season, East Hall looks to get past No. 4 seed Coahulla Creek, which shares the same region as reigning state champion Calhoun, on Friday. 

Calhoun swept Dawson County on Tuesday in the first round. North Hall and Chestatee were two Hall County teams eliminated in the other opening round games played Tuesday.

After winning 10-straight state titles spanning four classifications, Buford’s long reign ended with a loss against Wayne County in the Class 5A semifinals last year. But Tony Wolfe’s Lady Wolves are back in the hunt as a No. 2 seed in the Class 5A tournament.

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