Flowery Branch’s offense was slow to start Monday afternoon, but its defense did more than enough to pick up the slack.
With their season on the line, the Lady Falcons beat East Hall 4-0 in a Region 7-AAA Tournament play-in game on the Lady Vikings’ field. Flowery Branch will meet Gilmer at 4:30 today in the first round of the tournament at Lanier Point softball complex.
"Our goal was not to end the season tonight and that was the motivation for them," Flowery Branch coach Valerie Krause said.
The season did end for East Hall, who finishes with a 10-17-1 record (4-7 Region 7-AAA).
Led by freshman pitcher Rachel Duden, the Lady Falcons (8-17-2, 3-7 in 7-AAA) played error-free softball against an East Hall team that had beaten them 5-2 four days earlier.
"They played fundamentally sound," Krause said. "They caught the balls when they were supposed to and they played great."
Duden earned the complete-game win for the Lady Falcons, striking out five and not giving up any walks. She scattered four singles.
"I was hitting my spots pretty well," Duden said. "There was a little pressure but not that much. I was focused, so I was able to ignore that."
She only faced four batters over the minimum and was able to get ground balls when her team most needed them.
East Hall’s best scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Noel Clay and Kadi Davidson hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and second with one out. In seven pitches, Duden forced two ground outs to second base that ended the Lady Vikings’ rally.
The Lady Falcons had four 1-2-3 innings.
"When we did hit the ball hard, which was not as much as we needed to, it went right to some people," East Hall coach Kevin Thomas said. "They made the plays everytime."
Clay, Davidson, Kayla Watson and Christina White had a single each.
East Hall’s defense also struggled against Flowery Branch’s offense that repeatedly put the ball in play.
The Lady Vikings committed eight errors and pitcher Hannah Allen had two wild pitches late in the seventh that helped Flowery Branch add two insurance runs.
East Hall only had one 1-2-3 inning and two of Flowery Branch’s runs were unearned.
"We made a lot of mistakes in the field," Thomas said. "I knew it was going to be a nail-biter. We made enough mistakes to let it get away from us."
On a team without seniors, two freshman were the team leaders for Flowery Branch, including Duden’s performance in the pitcher’s circle.
Freshman Tonya Evans led the Lady Falcons on offense, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs.
"We’re really young," Krause said. "It’s only freshman, sophomores and juniors, but we have strength all through the lineup."
Leadoff hitter Alyssa Jannakos went 2-for-4 with two runs.
Five of Flowery Branch’s 11 baserunners reached by error. The Lady Falcons stranded seven baserunners, something they’ll look to improve for today’s game.
In their only meeting this season, Gilmer beat Flowery Branch 18-5 on Sept. 6. The Lady Bobcats are 10-1 in region play (14-14 overall) and are averaging more than five runs per game.
"Our goal is to hit hard all the way through the game and not let up in the middle," Krause said. "That has been our struggle all year."