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Prep baseball: Falcons win region championship
Flowery Branch's Nathan Busbee slides back to first base to avoid being picked off. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times


Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler talks about his team's Region 7-AAA championship.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Cody Ackerman was waiting on a fastball when he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning for No. 1-ranked Flowery Branch Friday night and he was more than willing to be the one to play the role of hero for the Falcons with the bases loaded and the score tied 3-3 against Lumpkin County.

Ackerman got just what he wanted with only one out and a drawn in Indians (12-12, 10-11 Region 7-AAA) outfield. He sat on a fastball and drove it over the left fielder’s head to score Travis Coxworth from third for the winning run in a 4-3 decision to send the Falcons (24-2, 20-2) to the Class AAA state playoffs as the region champions and the No. 1 seed.

“I couldn’t have come to the plate in a better spot,” Ackerman said. “I knew their pitcher was throwing a lot of change-ups on the first pitch, so I was waiting on the fastball.

“That has got to be my most memorable moment of the season for me.”

Coxworth started the inning with a lead-off double for the Falcons. Chad Rackley moved Coxworth over to third with a sacrifice bunt and Bucky Free and Cameron Wilson each drew intentional walks from Lumpkin County’s pitcher to give the possibility of a force out at any base.

But Ackerman made that decision irrelevant with his clutch piece of hitting to secure Flowery Branch’s second baseball region title in school history.

Just like in 2005 when the Falcons won the 7-AAA title, they will open the playoffs this year against Riverwood (17-8) in a best-of-three series that begins next Friday at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex.

Flowery Branch enters the playoffs red-hot as winners of 16 straight region contests, last losing to Gilmer on March 24.

“If we’re not 16-0 to end the season, we’re not the region champions,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Lawler said. “I’m very proud of this team, just like tonight we found a way to win the close games.

“We have a lot of respect for Region 5-AAA, because we know the past two state champions have come out of that region (Blessed Trinity in 2006 and Dunwoody in 2007). ... We knew we wanted to face the No. 4 seed.”

Ackerman’s walk off single helped erase the disappointment of leaving the bases loaded in the seventh.

After starting the count with three straight balls, Flowery Branch’s final hitter of the inning flew out to center field on a 3-2 count.

Lawler said the key after that inning was the fact that starting pitcher Patrick Henry came back out to the mound in the eighth inning to retire the heart of the Indians lineup in order. Henry, a Valdosta State signee, moved his record to 10-0 on the season with the win.

“That was so big for us that Patrick went back out there in the eighth inning, and boom, boom, boom, he retired the side,” Lawler added.

Henry — who is hitting .590 with 45 RBIs this season — had two hits that each scored a run for Flowery Branch. He had an RBI double in the first inning and an RBI single in the third inning that scored Falcons sophomore Brad Stone each time. Henry now has 38 doubles in his career and is only five short of the state record held by Calhoun’s Whit Robbins (43).

“We’ve been busting our tails all season, and now all the hard work has paid off,” Henry said. “I guarantee there isn’t a team in the state as well conditioned as we are.”

Danny Price set up each of Henry’s RBI singles with perfectly executed sacrifice bunts to put Stone into scoring position.

Stone finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Greg Palmer also added a hit for Flowery Branch.

Parker Jarrard led the Indians offensively with a two-run home run in the fifth inning to score James Davis. Drew Uptegraph (2-for-4), Devin Dunson (2-for-4), Quentin Self (1-for-4), Davis (2-for-4) and Graham Lytch (1-for-3) added hits for Lumpkin County.

Lumpkin County’s season is now complete.

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