No. 4 seed Flowery Branch at No. 1 seed Cambridge (Thursday)
No. 1 seed Buford vs. No. 4 seed Pickens
No. 3 seed White County at No. 2 seed Gilmer
No. 1 seed Dawson County vs. No. 4 seed East Jackson
No. 1 seed Jackson County vs. No. 4 seed Franklin County
No. 2 seed Lumpkin County vs. No. 3 seed Morgan County
No. 3 seed Banks County at No. 2 seed Oconee County
No. 2 seed Union County vs. No. 3 seed Darlington
All matchups are a best-of-three series.
Kelly Kahlert doesn’t feel like Flowery Branch is an underdog entering its first playoff series in program history.
Even though the Falcons (15-17) are a No. 4 seed facing Region 7-AAAAA champion Cambridge in the opening round of the state tournament, it’s a battle that the Falcons senior centerfielder believes is completely winnable.
Flowery Branch might not have the most seniors of the 32 teams in the playoff bracket. The Falcons also don’t have the most power at the plate or most intimidating presence in the pitching circle.
However, Kahlert thinks Flowery Branch has the chemistry to ride out the ups-and-downs and win in the best-of-three series.
“It’s so cool to see all of our hard work pay off like it has with a trip to the playoffs,” said Kahlert, who is committed to play at the University of North Georgia.
The first game of the series-opening doubleheader has been pushed back a day due to storms on Tuesday and will now begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, with Game 2 to follow at 7 in the North Fulton town of Milton. Game 3, if necessary, will follow on Friday.
While it could be viewed as a distraction, Kahlert sees having an extra day to prepare as more time to get better in all phases of the game. Flowery Branch is going to use the extra time Wednesday to prepare with another practice, after hitting in an on-campus indoor hitting area Tuesday while the heavy rain came down in the area.
Flowery Branch coach Laura Novotny-Beaver knows that consistency is one of the most important traits that have carried the team into the playoffs.
“These girls have played together for a long time and have truly committed to the team concept,” Novotny-Beaver said. “Through the wins and loses, and trials and tribulations that happen over the course of the season, they’ve continued to work extremely hard for one another.”
That leadership starts at the top of the batting order with Kahlert, who is a staple on the base paths with a .592 average and a .767 slugging percentage.
In addition to Chloe Zoeller hitting second, she’s complemented by No. 3 hitter Bailey Sims, a junior, who is hitting .396 with a .538 slugging percentage. Sims and Kahlert were also voted First-Team All-Region in 8-AAAAA earlier this week, according to the coach.
The Falcons have scored most often from the top of the order, with Kahlert and Sims combining for almost half of their 180 runs. Kahlert and Sims have been credited with 44 of 141 RBIs for the Falcons this season.
Kahlert simply tries to set the table by getting on base. She has all the confidence in the world that the rest of the Falcons’ batting order can move her around the base paths. She said that team chemistry and habits to lighten the mood — both on the bus ride to games and in the dugout — go a long way to improving performance.
Kahlert said that unique team handshakes are one way the players have of staying on the same page, and just enjoying the process of making it on a playoff run.
So, for Kahlert, the prospects of knocking off a region champion in the opening round are not that far fetched.
“I know we’re capable of going out there and winning this series, even though we know Cambridge has a good team,” Kahlert said. “And even if we don’t win, we’ve had such a great time playing together this season.
“I wouldn’t trade playing with this team for anything.”
In the pitching circle, Flowery Branch will be relying on sophomore right-hander Mackenzie Harris, who is 7-8 on the season. Freshman pitcher Kara Kight, who has also pitched regularly this season for the Lady Falcons, will not be able to throw, due to tendonitis in her shoulder.
Harris will throw Game 1 of the Cambridge series. Novotny-Beaver said she’s also called on some of her junior varsity players to bolster the pitching staff in Kight’s absence, should they be needed.
Flowery Branch qualified for the postseason with a sweep of Heritage in the Region 8-AAAAA tournament, after a victory against Gainesville in a play-in game.
The Falcons’ record could be a little bit deceiving. Novotny-Beaver feels like her program is playing its best softball of the season right now, which is all that matters once the postseason begins.
“We’re very excited about this playoff appearance,” Novotny-Beaver said. “We’re playing more together as a team now than ever before.”