Flowery Branch has one of the most battle-tested softball programs in the state.
Every time the sixth-ranked Lady Falcons take to the field, it’s a battle in a challenging Region 8-4A that has three Top-10 ranked programs.
And for Flowery Branch (15-3, 14-0 Region 8-4A), it has resulted in its first outright region championship in school history and No. 1 seed to the state playoffs, which opens Monday against Fayette County. The best-of-three series in the first round will begin with a doubleheader, starting at 5 p.m. in Flowery Branch.
Flowery Branch coach Blake Cagle, who is in his first year as head coach and ninth season with its program, said such a grueling regular season has been be a big boost as it chases a berth in Columbus for the state tournament later this month.
“In this region, every game is a dogfight,” Cagle said. “Every one is like a playoff game. There’s no easy games.”
Before the playoffs begin, the Lady Falcons have two more regular season games: against Chestatee on Wednesday and Madison County on Thursday.
Four of its 14 region wins have come by one run at Flowery Branch. The Lady Falcons beat seventh-ranked Jefferson 1-0 on Sept. 14 and No. 3 Madison County 2-1 five days later.
The Lady Falcons are built for success in the postseason with five seniors in the field, two dynamic sophomore in the pitching circle and a gritty junior Zoe Johnston-Hadaway behind the dish.
Flowery Branch also had to overcome the second basketball-related knee injury to Rylee Rothschild, who missed most of the regular season, but is now back on the field, providing depth at first base and as a designated hitter.
Cagle feels confident that if his team continues to play well, a deep playoff run is possible.
He said that competition for playing time with his program has yielded everyones best effort.
“This group does all the little things really well,” Cagle said. “Every player on the lineup card, I’m comfortable putting on the field.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations because I didn’t know how good we were going to be before the season started.”
The pitching staff for Flowery Branch is headlined by left-handed sophomore Nikki Harris, who ‘spins it well with good velocity’, according to Cagle, while Alyssa Wagner provides beneficial depth as the No. 2 starter, which is necessary in the postseason.
Behind the plate, Johnston-Hadaway has provided excellent leadership and knows how to call a good game and has an understanding of all the nuances involved in the game.
“Zoe’s a tough, gritty girl behind the plate,” Cagle added.
The batting order has also been prolific for the Lady Falcons, Cagle said, since flipping shortstop Aubrey Bourrie to the leadoff spot from her previous home as clean-up hitter.
MaKaela Davis now holds down the No. 4 spot in the batting order for the Lady Falcons.
Second baseman Lauren Hicks, batting second in the order, and first baseman Amanda LeBlanc have also provided steady leadership at the plate for the Lady Falcons. Savanna Rutledge, who plays third base, also provides some pop to the batting order for Flowery Branch.
“We have a lot of good pitching and good hitting on this team,” Cagle added.