Flowery Branch played solid defense all game against top-ranked North Oconee on Wednesday evening, but a few costly mistakes doomed the Falcons in a 3-0 loss that wraps up a series defeat to the Titans, who also beat Flowery Branch 6-3 on Monday and 1-0 on Tuesday.
“That’s a good ball club,” Falcons coach Joey Ray said. “They’re well coached. They clearly compete at a high level. And for three straight games, we were right there with them, pitch for pitch. We just had one bad inning in all three games, and that cost us.”
Jake Beaver started for Flowery Branch (12-5, 3-3 Region 8-4A), and struck out 11 over six innings, giving up just two hits but also allowing a pair of Titans runs. The Falcons struggled at the plate, with JB Bell recording the team’s lone hit on the night, a single to lead off the second inning.
North Oconee got the scoring started early when David Wiley batted in Clemson football signee Bubba Chandler in all the way from first base to get the Titans on the board.
From that point through the fifth inning, the teams combined for just one hit, Bell’s second-inning grounder to left field, as neither team could find any sort of rhythm at the plate.
But the Titans added onto the lead in the top of the sixth when senior Phillip Ard blasted a solo home run over the left field wall. North Oconee scored again with a sac fly from Chandler in the top of the seventh to put the game even further out of reach.
The Falcons could not respond to the quick bursts of offense, failing to get anyone on base in either the sixth or seventh innings, and falling to the Titans for the third straight day.
Despite the defeat, Ray said the intensity and closeness of the trio of games against the state’s top-ranked team should give his players confidence going forward into the year.
“They’re ranked No. 1 in the state, and we’re right there with them, and we did not play our best baseball,” he said. “If we can clean some stuff up, we’re as good, if not better than anybody in the state in any classification.”