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Flowery Branch boys rally past Gainesville for region tennis title
Jackson Goble, of Gainesville, returns a volley to his opponent A. J. Morris of Flowery Branch during the Region8-AAAAA Tennis Tournament Wednesday. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Flowery Branch boys tennis team demonstrated why a tournament seeding can mean so little in the long run.

Despite carrying the No. 6 seed in the nine-team Region 8-AAAAA Tournament, the Falcons still took home the region title by defeating top-seeded Gainesville with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory on Wednesday at Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch.

Flowery Branch turned a 2-1 deficit into something much more positive with a 7-6, 6-4 win by Cris Dilidili at No. 3 singles, followed by the match-clinching 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 1 doubles by Matt Takacs and Quang Cao. By earning the win, first-year Falcons head coach Todd Vokal is 1 for 1 in his team’s pursuit of region titles.

“We’ve been fighting all year,” Vokal said. “We had a pretty good nucleus, and the finally believed in themselves.”

Flowery Branch took initial lead after 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 2 doubles by Phillip Correa and Lucas Arnette, but Gainesville stormed back by taking the top two singles matches in straight sets. Graham McKinnon recorded the Red Elephants’ first win with a 6-2, 7-6 triumph following a 7-1 tiebreaker session with Beau Millwood, and Jackson Goble capped off a 6-3, 6-3 win just minutes later.

Dilidili’s win prolonged the finals and gave Takacs and Cao the opportunity to complete the rally.

“The No. 1 doubles finally found themselves and believed they could play tennis,” Vokal said. “They’re a forced to be reckoned with right now, and they’re doing amazing.”

Flowery Branch advanced to the finals after upsetting No. 3 seed Clarke Central 3-2 in the first round Tuesday, followed by a 3-0 sweep of Winder-Barrow in the semifinals. Vokal said a few unavoidable forfeits early in the season could have improved the Falcons’ seeding.

Not that it mattered once the tournament began.

“We were ready and prepared for this tournament,” Vokal said. “It didn’t matter what seed we were.”

Flowery Branch hosts the No. 4 team from Region 5-AAAAA in the first round of the state playoffs, while Gainesville hosts the No. 3 team to Longwood Park. Both matches must be played by next Thursday.

BUFORD SWEEPS REGION 7-AAA: The Wolves’ boys and girls teams both brought home region titles after 3-0 wins in the Region 7-AAA finals Wednesday at the Bobby Bailey Tennis Center in Oakwood.

The Buford boys enter the Class AAA state playoffs next week with an unbeaten record on the season. They opened the finals against West Hall with a 6-1, 6-4 win at No. 1 doubles by Rob Hunter and Alex Turner, then secured the title with 6-1, 6-3 victory by Skylar Wilson at No. 3 singles, followed by a 6-1, 6-1 win at No. 1 singles by Colby West.

The Lady Wolves picked up their first victory against top-seeded North Hall at No. 2 doubles, as Rebecca Hendrix and Jessica Thompson rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 win. Mariajose Ferryos took No. 2 singles with a 6-1, 6-1 score, and Annalea Stevens clinched the region championship with a 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 1 singles.

“I’m amazed at how they’ve come together as a team this year,” Buford coach Roger West said. “We’ve waited a long time for this, and it’s finally happening. It’s just been a great group of kids.”

Banks County is also sending both its boys and girls team to state. The Lady Leopards defeated West Hall in the third-place game, while the boys lost to North Hall.

Region 7-AAA faces 6-AAA in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs next week.

GIRLS TENNIS POSTPONED: The girls Region 8-AAAAA Tournament finals between Gainesville and Flowery Branch was called early due to the threat of lightning Monday evening. Action will pick back up at 3:30 p.m. today at Flowery Branch.

At the time of the delay, top-seeded Lady Red Elephants were leading 2-1 over the second-seeded Lady Falcons. No. 2 doubles and No. 3 singles will complete their matches today after winning one set apiece on each court.

Flowery Branch’s Durden Smith currently leads Gainesville’s Georgia Summer at No. 2 singles with a 4-3 lead in the third set. Summer won the first set 6-3 and Smith took the second 6-2.

The No. 3 singles is tied 4-4 in the third set. The Lady Red Elephants’ Katherine Wright took an early lead with a 7-6 (7-4) win in the first set before falling 6-2 to the Lady Falcons’ Madison Smith in the second set.

“I’ve never seen a region championship match this close, ever,” Lady Falcons coach Ginger Jackson said. “They’re good; we’ve fought back. This is incredible. Both sides have played well so far, and I’m proud of my girls.”

Gainesville has already secured a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 1 singles by Brinkley Frankum, as well as a 7-6 (9-7), 6-3 victory at No. 1 doubles by Morgan Mercer and Lauren Carter. Flowery Branch’s No. 2 doubles team of Megan Ribovich and Breanna Benton recorded Flowery Branch’s first win with a 0-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 rally.