Flowery Branch at Ware County, 5 p.m. Wednesday
Buford vs. South Effingham, 5 p.m. Wednesday
East Hall vs. Cook, 3 p.m. Wednesday
North Hall at Worth County, 5 p.m. Wednesday
All softball playoff series are best-of-three format. Tickets for the doubleheader are $7, per Georgia High school Association rules. If necessary, the deciding third game is Thursday.
Flowery Branch’s softball team will pack on a school bus early Wednesday for a 275-mile trip and second-round playoff series against Ware County in Waycross. The Lady Falcons (13-17) hope to return home with a pair of wins in a best-of-three series and a spot in the Class AAAAA championship round in Columbus.
“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” said Flowery Branch coach Laura Novotny-Beaver, who has guided the program to the postseason three consecutive seasons.
Flowery Branch is back in the Round of 16 for the second straight season, but after losing five starters from last season’s club, this season was a work in progress at the beginning.
The glue to the program this season has been junior right-handed pitcher Kara Kight and the Falcons’ lone senior starter, Chloe Zoeller, at catcher. The Lady Falcons have also received major contributions from sophomore third baseman Alexis Nixon and junior Courtney Harris, who moved to middle infield after starting the season in the outfield.
Novotny-Beaver has continued to be impressed with her starting lineup, which includes three juniors, three sophomores and freshman Jessica Houston who plays right field and is the No. 3 starting pitcher. As shown during practice, Flowery Branch’s coach likes to optimize the time with players as they work on their individual skill set.
“Our practices are very organized,” said junior outfielder Callie Alexulian, who had her first home run in the first-round series sweep of Decatur last week. “When we’re practicing, we don’t have time to stand around.”
The gameday schedule is already planned out for Flowery Branch. The players and coaches will pull out of the school’s campus on a bus headed south at 6 a.m.
After a couple stops, they’ll arrive in Waycross in time for batting practice at the Ware County Middle campus, which is adjacent to the high school, before first pitch in Game 1 at 5 p.m. If needed, Game 3 of the series will be Thursday afternoon.
Flowery Branch hasn’t played Ware County. However, the Lady Falcons’ coach has instilled in her players it will be a grind to get out of South Georgia with a pair of wins.
“We know anyone in the top 16 in the state is going to be really good,” said Flowery Branch’s coach.
Flowery Branch moved on to this second round after a first-round sweep of Decatur, winning 16-6 and 11-3, last week. Ware County had a three home-run day from shortstop Lizzie Shubert for a two-game sweep of Locust Grove (13-3 and 3-1) in Henry County.
Despite entering the postseason with the No. 4 seed out of Region 8-AAAAA, Flowery Branch had a hit from every hitter in the batting order and a strong pitching performance by Kight for the wins against the Region 6-AAAAA champion and 10th-ranked Decatur (22-8).
That region seeding for Flowery Branch was highly misleading with the strength of schedule including region games against No. 1 Buford (26-2), No. 3 Walnut Grove (26-6) and Loganville (22-11). All four playoff qualifiers out of Region 8-AAAAA are still in the running for a trip to Columbus and shot at the state title.
“It would be funny if our Region had four of the eight spots in (Class AAAAA) Columbus,” Novotny-Beaver added.
Flowery Branch also split a pair of region-season meetings against former 8-AAAAA rival Apalachee, which made the state playoffs in its first season playing in Class AAAAAA. Coach and players alike feel like the 3-0 win in the second meeting against Apalachee on Sept. 21 for Senior Night was when the Lady Falcons really showed a flash of postseason potential.
“Our schedule has been one of the toughest in the entire state,” said Novotny-Beaver.