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Softball season now in the home stretch
Flowery Branch, Buford going for region titles
Flowery Branch third baseman Hunter Woodruff takes a throw from Casey Zoeller as the Lady Falcons work at holding runners on the base during the team’s practice Wednesday afternoon. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Flowery Branch softball coach Laura Beaver is glad that her program is about to have a little bit of a breather. The Lady Falcons (16-11, 5-2 Region 8-AAAAA) wrap up a successful regular season against Clarke Central today in Athens, then take a week off before starting the region tournament, probably as the No. 3 seed.

Flowery Branch is trying to qualify for the postseason for the first time in Beaver’s five seasons with the program, three years as a head coach. She says this season’s success goes back to the group she has and their unwavering dedication to playing as one.

“We’re trying to start a legacy here at Flowery Branch and put the program on the map,” Beaver said.

The sentiment of trying to wrap up the regular season strong heading into region tournaments is shared by most.

Even Buford (17-1), winner’s of five straight state titles in Class AA since 2007, needs to finish strong to hold on to the No. 1 spot for the Region 7-AAA tournament, even with its 5-0 record against region opponents.

And the region tournament format allows the opportunity for those not holding one of the top region spots currently to try to sneak up and grab one of the four spots to state. Even with a 5-16 overall record, Gainesville will probably take the seventh spot into 8-AAAAA’s tournament.

The Lady Red Elephants are certainly hot right now, following wins against Class AAAAAA’s Central Gwinnett and a region victory against Cedar Shoals.

A recent 3-2 win against Chestatee gave Gainesville coach Michelle Green a good feeling about her program heading down the stretch. In the final week, Gainesville has five games remaining, including its region finale against Winder-Barrow today.

“Our team is young but starting to find a rhythm,” Green said.

The Lady Wolves still have four games remaining before the 7-AAA tournament opens Sept. 29 at East Hall Park.

Today, Buford visits North Hall (10-12, 2-3) and a rescheduled home game against Dawson County (12-6-1, 4-0) next Wednesday. The following week, the Lady Wolves play nonregion games against St. Pius X and Rockmart.

Lady Wolves coach Tony Wolfe says that, even though region seedings are important, it carries nowhere near the same importance as how the team performs in the actual tournament to earn a playoff spot.

Wolfe is eager to let his girls play again today since they haven’t touched a softball since Monday. The coach allowed the team time off to attend the visitation and funeral for junior classmate Adam Smith, who died Sunday, three days after collapsing at the school during basketball conditioning.

“North Hall is going to be a challenging game for us on the road and just not knowing where the girls are after the tragedy we had at the school,” Wolfe said.

Even though Buford has produced the same dominating results in 2012, it has been with a much younger roster. Sophomore Bria Bush has carried the load in the circle with a 10-1 record, while Bekah Rude has a 4-0 mark. On the left side of the infield, the Lady Wolves start two freshmen with Drew Puckett and Baylee Sexton.

The Lady Wolves have needed the added production from younger players, given that expected starter Tessa Daniels hasn’t pitched this year after an off-season torn hamstring, but could return by next weekend, says Wolfe.

“It’s been a really fun year for us,” Wolfe said. “It’s been different, we rely more on our speed now.”

Meanwhile, Beaver speaks proudly about the girls that set the table at the top of the Flowery Branch lineup.

Sophomore Kelly Kahlert is hitting about .500 in the lead-off spot, followed in order by junior Casey Zoeller, freshman Bailey Sims and clean-up hitter Madison Whitmire, the Region 8-AA Player of the Year last season at Jackson County.

“This is a great bunch of girls,” Beaver said. “They play well together and genuinely take care of one another.
“They are great teammates.”

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