Monday January 21st, 2019 7:12PM

Playoff tennis: Falcons keep history alive, clinch state championship shot

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

PEACHTREE CITY — Flowery Branch boys tennis coach Stacey Smallwood lived a lifetime on Monday afternoon, agonizing through a state semifinal match that looked as if it might never end.

"It seemed like we were tied at 1-1 for an hour," Smallwood said. "It was a roller-coaster, very intense."

When all was finished, however, it was worth every ounce of stress, as the Falcons battled past McIntosh for a 3-1 victory to reach the Class 4A state championship.

It will be the first title shot in program history.

After prevailing in their first ever semifinal, the Branch will head to Rome on Saturday with both belief and confidence.

"We went down (to McIntosh) knowing we could compete and that they had to fight for everything," Smallwood said. "I'm so proud of them. I'm thankful they have the heart they have. To win the way they did today... that's just incredible."

The Falcons clinched the No. 3 singles point in straight sets behind Jack Thomas, 6-4, 6-0 -- yet the homestanding Chiefs claimed the No. 1 singles point, 6-1, 6-1.

Branch's doubles teams were not about to let the opportunuity slip, however.

The No. 2 team of Gunnar Hetzel and Brady McVey won in straight sets -- and did so in back-to-back tiebreakers 7-6, 7-6, to give the Falcons the lead.

Then it was No. 1 team's turn, and John Hollis ad Brody Millwood gritted out a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory to seal the championship berth. Branch's No. 2 singles Nathan Holley was in his third set after splitting the first two sets 6-4, 6-7 (6-8).

"When they clinched it was just incredible," Smallwood said. "This sport is so mental, and that part of the game can make or break you. There were times when I called our guys over to the fence to remind them not to get down or upset. And they just responded and fought back."

The Branch will await Tuesday's semifinal between Buford and Starr's Mill to discover their championship opponent. The Class 4A boys final takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

"We've already played Buford twice, and I know we can beat them -- but my players have to believe they can beat them too," said Smallwood, whose team finished as the No. 2 seed to Buford from Region 8-5A.

"Whoever we play the guys know they're about to play the hardest match of their lives on Saturday. And they're ready for it."

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