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Early runs lift Flowery Branch to upset over Gainesville
C. J. Navin, of Flowery Branch, slides safely under the tag of Sims Griffith of Gainesville during the game at Flowery Branch Thursday evening. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

FLOWERY BRANCH — Even with two nationally-ranked teams, Region 8-AAAAA isn’t without the occasional baseball upset.

Flowery Branch demonstrated that Thursday night, using a four-run third inning to surprise region leader Gainesville with a 5-2 win at Hog Mountain Sports Complex.

Justin Seabolt, Drew Miles, Andrew Weekley and C.J. Navin each drove in runs during the key inning, and Jonathon Hughes pitched a complete game to earn the win on the mound and snap the Red Elephants’ 11-game winning streak.

“We want to beat Gainesville, and we did a good job of just staying in the moment and playing baseball,” Falcons coach Scott Myers said. “As far as the way we stack up, that’s the best team in the region at this point.”

Flowery Branch (14-9, 9-5 Region 8-AAAAA) has all but clinched the No. 4 seed and the final playoff spot from the region. With one final two-game series left in the regular season, a single win against upcoming opponent Heritage will guarantee a playoff spot for the Falcons, and prevent any possible tie between them and fifth-place Apalachee.

Gainesville (20-3, 12-2), which defeated Flowery Branch in Game 1 of the series Wednesday, had the opportunity to clinch the region title with a win. The Red Elephants can try for it again when they visit Apalachee on Monday.

Flowery Branch led by as much five through three innings, taking an early lead in the bottom of the first when Dylan Gibeau hit a sacrifice groundout off Gainesville starter Michael Gettys to score Hughes.

The ace of the Red Elephants’ lineup, Gettys went the distance and struck out, three but couldn’t silence Flowery Branch’s bats in the third inning. The Falcons took a 2-0 lead on Seabolt’s bunt up the third-base line that left just enough room for Stephen Skeggs to avoid a diving tag attempt by Gettys and reach home safely. Miles bounced a single over the head of the Gainesville third baseman two at-bats later to score Seabolt, and Weekley hit a pop-fly to bring in Dylan Gibeau.

Navin, who went 2 for 2 on the night, capped off third-inning scoring with a single to right that scored Miles.

“We did a good job of getting some runs early and doing some things,” Myers said. “It’s good to be playing well and feeling like you’re playing well heading into the playoffs.”

Hughes allowed six hits and struck out three, holding Gainesville to its second-lowest run total of the season. He gave up his first run in the top of the fifth on Skyler Weber’s single to left that scored Luke Maddox from third.

He faced his biggest jam of the game in the top of the seventh after walking back-to-back hitters with two outs, setting up an RBI single by Caleb Whitenton that drove in Sims Griffith. With the potential game-tying hit at bat, he got Hunter Anglin to pop up to end the game.

“I kept the ball low, and kept them from sitting on a fastball,” Hughes said. “Throwing curveballs at fastball counts and fastballs at curveball counts.”

Weber was Gainesville’s only batter with extra hits, going 2 for 3 on the evening.