FLOWERY BRANCH — As Flowery Branch senior Cassidy Elrod sees it, this year’s team is even better than last year’s Region 8-AAAA champions, even if the eighth-ranked Lady Falcons didn’t go undefeated in the region this time.
Instead, a close loss to Heritage earlier in the season resulted in a more focused Lady Falcons team, one that Thursday night routed Salem 10-0 in a mercy-rule shortened game to claim a second consecutive region title.
Elrod, who had a number of shots blocked by Salem goalkeeper Sydni Booker in the first seven minutes, assisted on the Lady Falcons first goal on a cross to sophomore Julia Sienkiewicz, who headed the ball past the keeper, before scoring two of her own to put the hosts ahead 3-0 less than 15 minutes in.
“I was getting a little rushed and not aiming for the corners,” Elrod said. “But you just have to keep shooting.”
And once the shots started to find the net, Salem (8-7, 4-5) couldn’t do anything to slow down the Lady Falcons (16-1, 9-1), who recorded six goals in the first half and their 10th with 18:54 remaining in the game.
Flowery Branch will finish the regular season with a non-region game against Grady High at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Falcon Field, before embarking on another state tournament run. The way the regions are currently aligned, Lady Falcons coach Katie Scali said Flowery Branch would likely open with Region 7-AAAA team Johns Creek at Falcon Field in the first round of the state playoffs.
As they displayed Thursday night, this Lady Falcons team is very well prepared.
“Before the game the coach was trying to prepare us. With Heritage we went in too confident, joking around,” said Elrod, who saw first-hand as the Lady Patriots scored two early goals to upset Flowery Branch on March 23 and briefly take over the region lead.
“This time we were more focused.”
And even though the Lady Falcons will enter state this season with a 9-1 region record as opposed to last year’s 10-0, they left no doubt as to how much they’ve improved.
“We’re way better,” the forward said. “We had girls come up from middle school to make it better.”
Further proof: This season’s Lady Falcons have won more games and lost fewer than any team in program history, while allowing the fewest goals (including four allowed through 10 region games). With 95 goals scored, the team is also close to the school record in that category as well, Scali said.
“I think we were 100 percent the best team in our region this year,” Scali said. “Heritage is a great team and definitely deserved the win, but that made us not take anything for granted.”
Since the loss to the Lady Patriots, who finished the season 8-2 in the region along with Apalachee and Winder-Barrow, the Lady Falcons have outscored their last four opponents 26-1. Coupled with a 3-2 Loganville win over Heritage just four days after the game at Falcon Field, Flowery Branch had a clear shot to win its second ever region title — and second 8-AAAA title in two chances — if the team could just win its remaining region games.
Scali and Elrod both cited depth as a reason for the team’s success.
“All but maybe two or three players have scored this year,” the coach said. “I don’t hesitate to put anybody in the game.”
Thursday night not only did Elrod record two goals and two assists. Jacy Ramey also scored twice and Hannah Kirk, Madeline McCarthy, Megan Kirk, Cashen Philyaw and Isabelle Lee all scored once in addition to Sienkiewicz’s ice-breaker.
Flowery Branch also recorded 23 shots on goal to just two for the Lady Seminoles, who were the defending region champs before the Lady Falcons took over that title last season.
Salem also played Flowery Branch much closer in 2011, with the Lady Falcons holding on for a 2-1(3-2) win in penalty kicks.
Flowery Branch left no doubt this time around. After Sienkiewicz’s header, Elrod scored her first goal in the 30th minute on a shot from the top of the box. The forward scored again when she flew into the box to corral a shot blocked by Booker and deposited it into the back of the net.
Salem didn’t get its first shot on goal until 18 minutes remaining in the first half. Hannah Kirk put the game further out of reach soon after when she intercepted a wayward Booker pass in the box and fired it into the empty net to put the Lady Falcons ahead 4-0.
Goalkeepers Lauren Dunn and Elizabeth Bachmann combined on the shutout, Flowery Branch’s 14th of the season.
SALEM BOYS 1, FLOWERY BRANCH 0: Seminoles forward Ahmadu Mahdi headed a ball into the Falcons’ goal midway through the second half to upset state-bound Flowery Branch Thursday at Falcon Field.
The Flowery Branch boys (11-5-1, 8-2) had already locked up the No. 2 spot in region, and will host an opponent to be determined in the first round of the state playoffs. First, the Falcons will host Grady High on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the final regular season game.
Flowery Branch had a number of chances to score against Salem (5-10, 3-6) but couldn’t convert even as they pressured the Seminoles defense up until the final seconds.