Faced with stopping the hottest team in the region — the Gainesville Red Elephants — Cody Ackerman and the Flowery Branch Falcons showed no signs of fear and ended Gainesville’s 10-game winning streak to the tune of a 9-1 victory on Friday at Hog Mountain Sports Complex.
"I thought we were one of the best teams in the region and Gainesville is a very good team," Falcons coach Jimmy Lawler said. "This win is big and it puts us in a good position in the second round of region play."
The win moves the Falcons (14-2, 11-2 Region 7-AAA) into a tie with the Red Elephants (12-5, 11-2) for first place in the region. But Flowery Branch, which has won six straight, has the advantage with two wins over Gainesville, giving it the tiebreaker advantage if the region title were to depend on that.
"This was the biggest game of my life," said Ackerman, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter in just the third start of his career.
It was Ackerman that set the tone early for the Falcons retiring the first eight Red Elephants he faced.
"The start set the pace and I think I showed the guys on my team that I could set them down and wasn’t afraid," the senior right-hander said.
With the pace set on the mound, the Flowery Branch offense got to work, scoring five runs on two hits and three errors in the bottom of the second inning.
Bucky Free got the offense moving with a double to deep center field to open the inning. Although his run was cut down at the plate on a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, the Falcons got on the scoreboard three batters later when Danny Price slapped a single to left field that scored Cameron Wilson. That hit not only produced the game’s first run, but it marked the start of Price’s perfect night at the plate, as the senior finished the game 3-for-3 with three singles, a walk and three runs scored.
According to Price, his strong night offensively was due to the fact that he was facing one of the best baseball talents in the state in Gainesville senior pitcher and University of Georgia signee Robbie Hefflinger.
"Whenever you face a guy of that caliber it makes you play harder," Price said.
But the Falcons did not have to worry about facing Hefflinger for long, because three batters later, after he had given up five runs — all unearned — and walked two straight batters, Hefflinger was replaced on the mound by Andy Edmondton.
For the game, Hefflinger surrendered four hits and four walks in 1À innings pitched. Rendered ineffective on the mound, Hefflinger and fellow senior Zach Bennett tried their best to keep the Red Elephants in the game.
The duo finished the game a combined 3-for-6 with a double and a run scored.
That run came in the fourth, as Hefflinger led off the inning by hitting a hard ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off of Ackerman’s leg and fielded by Price. Price’s throw to first was wide, leaving Hefflinger standing on second base.
Bennett followed with a double to right field that put runners on second and third with no out. Hefflinger was able to score two batters later on a flyball by Adam Parker, but Ackerman snuffed out the Red Elephants threat.
"It was my fault that we were put in that position and I felt it was my job to get us out of it," said Ackerman, who felt no effects of being hit by Hefflinger’s ground ball.
With Gainesville finally on the board, the Falcons tacked on another unearned run in the fourth inning to put their lead back to five runs and put the finishing touches on the win in the sixth inning.
After Adam Stone and Price led off the inning with back-to-back singles, senior Patrick Henry (2-for-3) hit an RBI double to right field that scored Price. Henry scored on a wild pitch, the third Falcons run that scored that way, to put the score at 9-1.
"Obviously, we want to win every ballgame," Lawler said, "but really all we want to do is put ourselves in the best position possible to win region.
"If we keep winning it puts us in a position to achieve that goal."
The Falcons look to keep their winning streak alive when they travel to East Hall to take on the Vikings at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Gainesville plays host to North Hall at 5:30 p.m. Monday.