FLOWERY BRANCH — The Flowery Branch baseball team has spent most of the early season simply trying to reestablish its identity after enduring a plague of injuries before the year even began.
The process hasn’t been an easy one, but the Falcons haven’t caved yet. They’re still winning games, including a 7-3 victory over Hart County on Wednesday at Hog Mountain Sports Complex.
The victory halted a three-game skid for Flowery Branch (5-3), and put them back on winning track before Region 8-AAAAA begins Friday with the start of a two-game series with Clarke Central.
“It was nice to get back to winning,” said Falcons assistant coach David Hawkins, who filled in for head coach Scott Myers during the game. “We kind of went into a tailspin and lost three in a row. It’s always nice to go into region with a winning streak.”
Flowery Branch is still tweaking its lineup to adjust for the long haul without 2012 team MVP Chase Hulsey, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. The Falcons are also working outfielder Blake Turner back into the lineup after he suffered a knee injury during football season.
Hawkins says the team isn’t quite as healthy as it could be, but doesn’t expect a much longer wait before Turner is available full-time.
“Hopefully by region, we’ll be as fully-staffed as we can be,” he said. “Obviously losing Chase was a big blow to the team, but it is what it is. We feel confident with our staff heading into region, but people have to step up and fill the roles.”
The current lineup didn’t have too many issues with Hart County (3-7), especially at the plate in the second inning. Flowery Branch scored six runs on three hits and batted around the order with two outs, taking advantage of four hit batters by Bulldogs pitcher Jonathan Carpenter during the inning.
Flowery Branch pitcher Brad Keller singled to score Cameron Davis and Dylan Gibeau, and the Falcons followed it up by capitalizing on three ensuing bases-loaded situations. Jonathan Hughes popped up to score Chad Kahlert, and Keltin Devoe ripped a double between third base and shortstop to score Justin Seabolt and Andrew Nolt.
Flowery Branch tallied its final run of the inning when Gibeau was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, scoring C.J. Navin.
The Falcons added another run in fifth, when Hart County third baseman Brady Graham misplayed a hard-hit ground ball by Keller to score Weekley, who doubled earlier in the inning.
“We forced them to make a few plays in that (second) inning and got a few hits,” Hawkins said. “But we have to keep adding on. After that inning we kind of just went flat.”
Keller’s 3-RBI night served as the best run support for himself. On the mound, he picked up the win with seven strikeouts and four hits allowed in five innings of work.
His role in Flowery Branch’s rotation is sure to expand this season with Hulsey absent for the year. Both hurlers won six games in 2012. Keller is expected to throw again Monday when the Falcons visit Clarke Central.
“Any time Brad goes on the mound he gives us a chance to win,” Hawkins said. “His pitch count ran kind of high, but we were trying to get him one last start before region.
“He’s in his third year of throwing a lot of innings. Pitchers pride themselves on doing their job and letting everything else kind of play its role. He’s fine — he plays under the pressure pretty well.”
Keller didn’t give up a hit until the fourth, a single by Graham. Hart County scored its first run on the ensuing at-bat, a sacrifice fly by Josiah Sullivan that scored Matt Boy. Graham then scored on a wild pitch before Keller struck out Carpenter to close out the inning and avoid a jam.
The Bulldogs added another run in the fifth on an RBI single by Boy that scored Brady Burgess. The play loaded the bases with two outs, but Keller escaped the jam by forcing Chris Wilson to ground out.
Navin pitched the final two innings for Flowery Branch, striking out three.
Flowery Branch visits Hart County for the second game of the series at 5:55 p.m. today in Royston. The game was originally scheduled for Monday.