In a brief moment of reflection following Wednesday’s Region 8-AAAAA final, Flowery Branch girls tennis coach Ginger Jackson kept looking back on a midseason tournament played at South Forsyth High.
She pointed to that as the reason why Lady Falcons were able to pull out a gutsy victory over Buford at Buford City Park to capture the program’s fourth region championship, their first under the new classification.
The No. 1-seeded Falcons overcame one-set deficits in three of the five lines to pull away from the No. 2 Wolves in a 3-1 win.
“Playing in big tournaments like that prepares you for matches like this,” Jackson said.
The Lady Falcons locked down the top playoff seed and will stay put to host the early stages of the Class AAAAA tournament starting next week.
“This is big. This is big for our program to beat a school like Buford,” Jackson said. “I mean, they’re good, they’re good at everything they do. And I have the utmost respect for their program and what they do here.”
Meanwhile, Buford coach Sean Gilbert, who coaches both the boys and girls programs, managed to experience some excitement to soften the blow. The top-seeded boys won in three lines over No. 2 seed Flowery Branch for their third region title overall. The Wolves will most likely host the No. 4 seed in next week’s Class AAAAA tournament.
The girls’ loss still weighs heavy on Gilbert, though.
“The way we had it, it was set up for us,” Gilbert said of the girls match. “First sets across the board except for No. 2 doubles and No. 3 singles. But I’m not making excuses. (Flowery Branch) played some good tennis, too. Sports and competition is facing adversity and overcoming it, and they did that just a little bit more than we did.”
Flowery Branch junior Olivia Correa at No. 2 singles attested to Jackson’s logic, as the match came down to decisive third sets in the Top-2 singles matches for Flowery Branch.
Correa’s win secured the title not long after Annabelle Thomas in the No. 1 spot dug deep to claim a second-set tiebreak (7-2) over Bailey McCammon and lock her battle at one set apiece.
Correa, who Jackson said strung together some big wins in last month’s neutral tournament, clinched the victory with a three-set triumph over Buford’s Kenzie Walters in front of a large evenly mixed crowd of Buford and Flowery Branch fans.
If there was anyone Jackson could put money on to win these types of matches, it would be Correa, the coach said.
“This is my third year on the team, and I know this is something coach talks about more than anything, and I know this is a team sport and it’s for us girls,” said Correa, now a two-time region champion with Flowery Branch in her third season with the varsity program.
“But (coach Jackson) deserved this so much. I am so happy I could do it for her.”
Correa noticed her footwork was off after losing a contested 6-4 opening set to Walters. The significance of her match also became more apparent as she glanced over to teammate Thomas, who was neck-and-neck with McCammon.
“I wasn’t moving my feet at all, that was the main thing,” Correa said.
Correa regrouped and, despite trading some extended rallies and impressive winners, stormed back to win the second set 6-3. After breaking back at 3-2 during the decider, a composed Correa rested up on her toes in between every point in the final three games.
“You can miss-hit balls, you can not serve well, do all of that. But you can always move these,” Jackson said as she pointed to her legs.
Up 5-2 and 40-love, Walter's backhand dumped into the net on match point, and sealed it for Flowery Branch.
Olivia Nance at No. 3 singles cruised to a straight-set (6-0, 6-0) sweep of Buford's Sawanna Klem for the Lady Falcons’ first point, while teammates Marissa Barrett/Breanna Martin defeated Buford’s Gabby Benson/Sydney Grothe (6-3, 6-4) in No. 2 doubles. Buford’s No. 1 senior-laden pair of Tamia Wayne/Emma Place won 6-3, 6-3.
BUFORD BOYS TAKE HOME REGION TITLE: Buford’s No. 1 doubles pair of Cameron Deloch/Alex Pruitt were already in the home stretch when the Falcons No. 1 and No. 3 singles lines turned the corner.
Flowery Branch freshman Drayton Matus was locked in a third set and on the verge of pulling off another come-from-behind win over Buford’s senior No. 1 Brady Todd. Freshman Gunnar Hetzel also won the first set 7-5 against Buford’s Trent Milton and trailed 1-0 in the third when Deloach unloaded a pair of overheads, his second forcing an error on Flowery Branch’s end to give the Wolves a 7-6, 6-3 victory.
Cole Tarleton/Luke Davidson only dropped one game to win the other doubles match for Buford (6-1, 6-0). Dalton Counts at No. 2 singles also powered through with a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Flowery Branch senior Tucker Smallwood.
“They played one of the best matches of the year,” Gilbert said. “They looked really strong all the way through. So I’m real proud of them.”