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Flowery Branch softball opens on a high note in tourney
Lady Falcons defeat North Hall 11-2 in season opener at Lanier Point Invitational
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Flowery Branch High’s Jessica Gunter delivers a pitch during the Falcons’ game with North Hall in the Lanier Point Invitational softball tournament Friday afternoon.

Until sophomore Kelly Kahlert’s bases clearing triple, Flowery Branch built its lead with bunts and infield singles.

But it was the Falcons’ center fielder’s shot down the right field line that broke open the game against North Hall on the way to a four-inning, 11-2 win Friday in the Lanier Point Invitational at the Lanier Point Softball Complex.

It ended up being the first and only game of the night for the Falcons, whose game against Rabun County, scheduled for 8 p.m., was moved to 8 a.m. today, along with the rest of the late games after lightning halted tournament play.

The games scheduled for today, including the rest of pool play and bracket play, will begin following the conclusion of the rescheduled games.

It gives the Lady Falcons at least a little more time to enjoy having started the season on a high note.

Flowery Branch coach Lauren Beaver enjoyed seeing the offense erupt — whether it was with an infield single or an extra base hit.

“They’ve been working hard all summer,” the fifth-year Lady Falcons coach said. “I’m glad to see it pay off.”

The small-ball success — Flowery Branch batters drove in six runs on batted balls that never left the infield — wasn’t a surprise.

“We work on bunting and base running on a regular basis,” Beaver said. “I’m glad they can execute some of that stuff and put pressure on the opponent.”

More than anything, for a team looking to make a run at the playoffs in Region 8-AAAAA this season, the decision opened the season on the right note.

“I think we look great,” Kahlert said after the opener. “After losing three big seniors, we’re coming together really well.”

Kahlert led the offense, going 2 for 3 with four RBIs, including the hard-hit, three-run triple through the legs of the first baseman in the top of the third inning to turn a 7-1 lead into a rout. Chloe Zoeller and Megan Pritchard each drove in two runs, and Jessica Gunter pitched four innings, allowed four hits and struck out two to earn the win in the pitching circle.

Second baseman Brittany Canavan flashed the leather for the Lady Falcons, snaring a hard line drive in the bottom of the fourth and doubling up the runner on second base to escape a bases loaded, one-out jam to secure the final outs of the win.

North Hall coach Brooke Russell saw the beginnings of a rally in the final inning, with the Lady Trojans loading the bases with one out after the game just barely beat the 75 minute time limit after three innings.

It was a glimpse of what the team, champions of the tournament’s silver bracket last season, was capable of in what was otherwise a disappointing result. Lady Trojans starter Alyx Kanaday, who allowed just one run in the first on Prichard’s RBI double, was saddled with the loss and knocked out of the game in the second inning after walking the bases loaded and allowing a two-run, infield single up the middle to Zoeller. The North Hall outfielder misplayed the tough ball, allowing the second run to score. It was the first of three consecutive run-scoring infield singles that gave Flowery Branch a 5-0 advantage.

North Hall center fielder Hayden Savage beat out a two-out, infield single in the second inning to drive a run across and get the Lady Trojans within four runs after two, but Flowery Branch broke open the game in the top of the third with a six-run inning.

North Hall left fielder Ellie Forrester stole home in the bottom of the third on the front end of a double steal to account for the final run of the game.

“We didn’t show up to play like we should have,” Russell said. “Maybe we got it out of our system and we’ll play again tomorrow.”

North Hall had just one game on the opening night, and will play its second and third pool play games against Gilmer and Rabun County today. Bracket play will follow the conclusion of pool play, and Russell said it was possible for the Lady Trojans to play as many as five games before the day is done.

It would be up to five more chances for North Hall to improve on what Russell pegged as her team’s biggest weakness: consistency.

“What we’re preparing for most is region and making state,” she said. “Anything we do outside our region games is always preparation.”

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: In the other tournament games, White County defeated East Hall 6-1, Commerce defeated Gainesville 5-0, Jefferson defeated Johns Creek 6-3, Wesleyen defeated Dawson County 8-4 and Gilmer defeated Rabun County 6-2.

Two other games were in progress when play was suspended during the second games of the night, and coaches from both decided to count the games as official. In three innings, Habersham Central defeated Fannin County 8-1, and in four innings defending tournament champs Union County defeated White County 8-5.

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