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Lady Falcons falter in second round of Region 8-AAAAA softball tournament
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Kelly Kahlert stays at second after driving in a for the Flowery Branch Lady Falcons Wednesday afternoon in Game 1 against Winder-Barrow of the Region 8-AAAAA softball tournament in Flowery Branch. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

Winder-Barrow rarely let an opportunity go to waste with the bases loaded in its Region 8-AAAAA softball tournament doubleheader on Wednesday at Flowery Branch High.

A Lady Bulldoggs (13-11) grand slam in Game 1 led to a 5-4 victory, and a bases-loaded single in Game 2 scored three runs after a Flowery Branch error to help complete the sweep in a 9-0 win in the best-of-three, second round series.

With the win, fifth-seed Winder-Barrow (13-11) secured its first state playoff berth since 2009 and moves on to face top-seeded Heritage on Monday in a best-of-three region tournament semifinal series in Conyers.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Winder-Barrow coach Monty McClure said. “This is something they’ve worked very hard to accomplish.

“The last time our program made the playoffs, our seniors this year were in the eighth grade.”

With the pair of loses, Flowery Branch’s season is now finished with a 17-11 mark.

Flowery Branch, which entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed, was swept at home in the second round for the second consecutive season.

The Lady Falcons cut their deficit to a run in the seventh inning of Game 1 with a single from Kelly Kahlert, who advanced to second on the steal with only one out.

Maddie Hetzel started the inning with a lead-off single and moved to third on a ground out, before scoring on Kahlert’s hit.

Kahlert and Lilly Parks both had two hits in Game 1 for the Lady Falcons, while Brittany Canavan had their lone hit in Game 2.

Erin Harbin picked up both wins and allowed a total of seven hits in the circle for the Lady Bulldoggs.

However, it was the big hits (nine in the first two innings of Game 2) for Winder-Barrow that set the stage for its playoff-spot clinching victory.

“Winder-Barrow has some very good hitters and saw enough in the first game that they were able to take advantage of it,” Flowery Branch coach Laura Novotny-Beaver said.

In Game 1, MacKenzie McFarland laced a grand slam just to the right of dead center field in the fourth inning to give the Lady Bulldoggs an early 4-0 lead.

The only time Winder-Barrow wasn’t successful with the bases loaded came before McFarland’s at bat. Shelby Phillips hit a grounder back to the mound and Flowery Branch pitcher Jessica Thomas threw home for the force out.

Ansley Johnson, who reached base three times in Game 1, drove in Winder-Barrow’s other run on an RBI double in the seventh inning.

Trailing 4-1 in the sixth inning, Flowery Branch put another two runs on the board — one on a single from Casey Zoeller, and another on a throwing error to first off a grounder by Parks.

Winder-Barrow ended Flowery Branch’s rally attempt with some quick thinking with two outs by second baseman T.K. Sauls.

On a sharply-hit line drive by Canavan, Lady Bulldoggs first baseman Megan Salter reached up and deflected it onto the ground toward Sauls at second base.

Sauls got over it in time to pick up the ball and flip it underhanded back to Salter to first for the final out of the inning.

WINDER-BARROW 9, FLOWERY BRANCH 0: In Game 2, Winder-Barrow posted six runs in the second inning, which started with consecutive singles by Johnson, Sauls, Phillips and McFarland.

Cathleen Nugue had an RBI single in the second inning for the Lady Bulldoggs, and Salter capped it off with a two-run double.

Nugue also had a two-run single in the first inning for Winder-Barrow.

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