Backing into the playofffs has never been Heath Kennedy’s style. And it certainly wasn’t going to be how his Flowery Branch high baseball team approached the final two weeks of the regular season.
So when the Falcons suffered a blowout loss to neighboring foe Buford in the first of a two-game Region 8-5A series April 10, the first-year coach gave his flock the ol fashioned “come to Jesus” ultimatum.
His players answered the call — and then some.
Five-straight wins to follow — including a 13-0, five-inning shutout of Cedar Shoals in the regular season finale on senior day Friday in Flowery Branch — has these high-flying Falcons (16-11, 8-4 Region 8-5A) postseason bound for the first time in three years.
The two-game Region 8-5A series sweep of the Jaguars (3-19, 1-10), also locks of the No. 3 seed for Flowery Branch as well as a third-place mark in the region. They’ll face the loser of Riverwood and Decatur, who a rubbermatch Friday to decide the No. 2 seed, April 28.
The turnaround was much quicker than Kennedy anticipated, but a pleasant surprise still.
“They really bought into the team aspect.” Kennedy said. “I didn’t realize we would kind of get on a run like we did. So certainly happy that we did. We didn’t want to ‘back in,’ and that’s what I told them. You always want to go in with some wins.”
Kennedy agreed the extra-inning, 1-0 walk-off win over Buford in the series cap on home soil was the first indication of the turnaround.
“It gave them confidence,” Kennedy said of the win at Falcon Field. “It’s easy to get deflated in baseball. That’s why they say ‘be ready for tomorrow’ because baseball is a very humbling game. For us, it was huge. “We had been walked off by North Oconee, Loganville, Pickens County. ...That’s happened to us a few times. Baseball is a game of momentum.”
And given the strength of the region 8, feels his team is well equipped for a potential run behind his solid pitching rotation led by sophomore Zack Wagner (5-0, 2.40 ERA), and Preston Felt (4-3). J.C. Sewell (3-2) the team’s starting pitcher for Friday, struck out four batters while only walking one and giving up three hits over three innings.
On Friday, the Falcons were off-balanced from the plate to start with three strikeouts to open the bottom of the first. But they only needed seven hits scattered over the next three innings to do their damage, though scored their first three runs off the aid of four errors despite no hits in the bottom of the first.
Junior Anthony Grutadaurio (.417 for the season) recorded the team’s only extra-base hit in the bottom of the third on a one-out double. And with two outs, a four-run surge fueled by a Andrew Reichart (1 for 2, run scored) two-run single and Preston Felt (1 for 1, run scored) RBI-single blew the game wide open.
In their only at-bats, two-run singles by T.J. Armstrong (1 for 1, run scored) and freshman Andrew Armstrong (1 for 1, run scored) put things far out of reach during a six-run frenzy in the bottom of the fourth.