With the eyes of a captive crowd upon them, Flowery Branch’s Breanna Benton and Brooke Kane never flinched.
The Lady Falcons’ No. 1 doubles team came back from a set down to pull out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Gainesville’s Madi Kiser and Georgia Summer and clinch Flowery Branch’s first region title since 2012 on Thursday morning in Flowery Branch.
Meanwhile, the Gainesville boys team broke a two-year drought of their own by securing the Region 8-AAAAA championship with a win over rival Flowery Branch on the Falcons’ courts following the girls’ championship.
Gainesville’s girls battled back from a 2-0 hole to set up a decisive match against Flowery Branch, but Benton and Kane responded just as the pressure seemed highest. The Lady Falcons will host Sequoyah High School in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs on April 21 at 4 p.m.
“It felt very powerful, and we knew that we weren’t alone in it,” said Kane, a sophomore. “Everything was worth it, working our butts off. It feels good to have a trophy for it.”
Katherine Wright (6-2, 6-1) and Haley Frankum (6-4, 6-4) swept No. 1 and 2 singles in straight sets for Gainesville’s girls after Peyton Brick (6-3, 6-0) and the No. 2 pair of Kaia Clark/Kylie McGuire (6-2, 6-3) earned wins for Flowery Branch to open the final. And it seemed that Gainesville would earn its third straight region title and the momentum when Kiser and Summer secured the opening set.
By then, a growing crowd of 30 or more parents and fans had crowded around the fence of the match.
But Benton and Kane used strong backhands and patience late to pull level and eventually win four straight points to cap off their three-set win, sending Flowery Branch to the Class AAAAA playoffs as a No. 1 seed.
“Heart, determination, they have that,” said coach Ginger Jackson. “They stepped up. They understood what they had to do. We knew it would come down to the final line, but no one knew who it would be.”
The third set featured a marathon game in which Flowery Branch went up for good, 4-3, following a ten-minute long duel. Kane turned to Benton, a senior and reminded her that she needed to take advantage of the opportunity. Two drop-shots and a double fault later, the pair were region champions, joined by a jubilant band of Lady Falcons.
The team posed for selfies and dined on strawberry cake as camera flashes popped all around them. This win was one to remember for a squad who had watched its county foe win region crowns in the past two seasons.
“I’ve definitely been blessed with the best doubles partner,” Benton said of Kane. “I’m just thankful I could finish my senior year with one of my best friends. It’s all faith. I just have so much faith in my team.”
For the Gainesville boys, No. 2 single Graham McKinnon provided the crucial victory on center court after Flowery Branch and Gainesville were tied 2-2. Regan Williams/Edward Belch (6-1, 6-4) and Trevor Munn/Roan Thompson (6-2, 6-2) each swept their doubles opponents for the Red Elephants before McKinnon outlasted a spirit attack from Flowery Branch’s Nathan Holley 6-2, 7-5. McKinnon never lost a set throughout the tournament, and has shined this season at the 2-spot behind North Hall transfer Jeffery Kiser.
McKinnon was dethroned as Gainesville’s No. 1 early this season by Kiser after the two competed in a challenge match.
“I think I probably had the best chance as a single to win,” said McKinnon, who said the pressure nearly got to him as the attention turned to him and Holley. “The most important thing was to win, and that it doesn’t matter where you’re placed.”
Two-time reigning region champion Beau Millwood knocked off Kiser (6-3, 6-4) in straight sets while No. 3 Phillip Corren (6-2, 6-0) gave Flowery Branch a fighting chance for a three-peat. Down 1-0, Holley battled back to force an extra game in the decisive second set, but McKinnon’s strong cross-court shots were too much to handle.
McKinnon, a senior, clutched the region title trophy tightly in his hands as he accepted the applause. Earning a No. 1 seed into the state playoffs felt good, but beating rival Flowery Branch was even better.
“It means more to them, when you play Flowery Branch,” said coach C.J. Weaver. “It’s a big thing for them. We felt positive about our No. 2. (McKinnon’s) our most steady guy we have on the team. We knew he’d come up when he’d need to.”