FLOWERY BRANCH — With one swing of the bat Flowery Branch senior Patrick Henry wiped away any lingering doubts and helped push the Falcons into the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs for the first time in team history.
Trailing by a run in the top of the seventh inning, Henry smashed a two-run homer on an 0-2 offering that provided the final margin of victory in the Falcons’ 7-6 Game 3 win over Riverwood on Saturday.
Top-ranked Flowery Branch (26-3) will play host to Stephens County (22-6) in a best-of-three series beginning Wednesday. Stephens County, the No. 2 seed out of Region 8-AAA, finished off Sandy Creek, 9-6, in Game 3 on Saturday.
"I’m speechless," Henry said. "To be honest, after that game yesterday (Riverwood’s 9-4 win in Game 2) I thought we might be done. It’s been so long since we lost a ball game that everybody was kind of down in the dumps. We had won (17 in a row). But when you lose one, especially in the state tournament, you’ve got to come back and it’s tough to do."
The Falcons got a lift early in Game 3, taking a three-run lead after two innings with the benefit of only one hit — Brad Stone’s leadoff single. Stone was the team’s most consistent hitter Saturday, finishing 3-for-4.
Equally important was the performance of starting pitcher Mason Roberts.
"He pitched great," Falcons coach Jimmy Lawler said.
Roberts worked five strong innings before tiring in the sixth, when Riverwood stormed from behind with four runs to take its first lead of the game at 6-5.
That’s when Lawler called on Cody Ackerman, the Game 2 starter, to bail the Falcons out of a jam. Ackerman obliged, closing the door on the Raiders in the sixth inning and working a perfect seventh to pick up the win.
The No. 9 hitter in the order, Ackerman also delivered a crucial two-run homer in the top of the sixth inning.
"We knew it was going to come down to us scoring runs," Lawler said. "We put a few up there early, which helped get us a little more relaxed. And then those two home runs in the sixth and seventh didn’t hurt either."
Trailing for the first time in the game, Flowery Branch’s Danny Price set up Henry’s heroics with a single to start the seventh.
"I just told the guys after (Riverwood) took the lead, ‘Hey, this could be the last game for us seniors,’" Henry said. "‘Hitters, just go up there with a plan and do what you’ve got to get on base and put it on that next guy.’"
But Henry admitted that when the opportunity arose, he was looking to do more than just get on base.
"Always in the back of a hitter’s head you’re thinking, ‘I want to be the hero,’" he said. "The first fastball I saw, I went for it and I just missed it. Everybody saw, I took a huge hack at it. But then I just shortened up and told myself, if I just put it on the next guy we’re going to win this baseball game. Then he just threw one middle-in and I just happened to turn on it."
It was Henry’s 10th homer of the season and his first hit of the game. Price finished 2-for-2 for the Falcons and Ackerman went 2-for-3.
"It feels great," Lawler said. "These kids deserve it after the season they’ve had."