FLOWERY BRANCH — After an epic 14-inning battle on Tuesday in a 4-3 win over Denmark, it only seemed natural that fatigue would eventually set in for the Flowery Branch baseball team.
The problem was that No. 1 Blessed Trinity was waiting at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex less than 24 hours later.
The Titans roughed up a tired Falcons pitching staff using a fourth-inning grand slam by Jake Smith to blow things open and then plated five more in the fifth to pull away for a 14-4 victory in a crucial first game of a two-game Region 7-4A series on Wednesday.
Flowery Branch coach Joey Ray, however, was reluctant to put it all on the fatigue factor. Falcons starter Zander Sechrist (3.1IP, 6H, 3BB, 4K, 8R, 6ER) was not part of Tuesday’s 4-hour-plus marathon but also did not have his usual good command.
Six wild pitches, four of which scored runs for Blessed Trinity, among three pitchers -- Sechrist and relievers Luke Houston and Rhodes Compton -- along with two errors and two non-plays by the defense in a pair of big innings were costly.
The Flowery Branch offense also did some good work roughing up Titans’ starter DJ Radtke for seven hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings. Radtke came into the game with a 0.94 ERA, which is sure to rise after Wednesday.
“No excuses. Blessed Trinity is a quality team and they did the little things you have to do to win,” Ray said. “It wasn’t Zander’s best outing and maybe (the 14-inning game) took a toll on some of the guys. But you have to fight through that.
“We’re a young team still and we’ve just got to do the little things better, especially when playing a team as good as Blessed Trinity. You can’t have that many wild pitches and you have to make the plays you’re supposed to make. We just ran out of pitching, really.”
The two teams head to Roswell on Friday to complete the home-and-home series. Ray knows nothing has been decided yet in a brutal region schedule, despite the disappointing showing on Wednesday.
“We’re putting this one behind us. We know the opportunity for us is still out there on Friday,” he said. “We always look for the best outcome in a series, [a sweep] but now we’ll have to hope we can get the next one.”
The Falcons (10-7-1, 4-3 Region 7-4A) will go with ace Andrew Armstrong, who tossed a gem last week in a 1-0 victory over No. 4 Marist. No word yet on who Blessed Trinity (15-3, 4-0 Region 7-4A) will throw.
“There is no doubt Andrew will give us chance,” Ray said. “We feel we can compete with them. We just need to cut down on the mistakes.”
Both pitchers cruised the first inning as Sechrist worked around a one-out walk while Radtke struck out two in a 1-2-3 inning.
Sechrist first ran into trouble in the second, however, as Radtke singled with one out and Michael Hatcher walked. Both moved up a base on a wild pitch and then scored on Bret Buursema’s two-RBI single to left. After a Buursema steal of second and a CJ Adams infield hit, Buursema scored on a second Sechrist wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.
Flowery Branch was poised to answer right back as Kaleb Freeman and Armstrong both singled to right to lead off the inning. But both runners were on the move when Baxley O’Brien popped to Titans’ shortstop Abrams, who then stepped on second and threw to first for a triple play to get Radtke out of a huge jam.
Blessed Trinity appeared to blow the game open in the top of the fourth when Smith belted his grand slam to left off Houston’s second pitch for a 9-0 lead.
But the Falcons finally responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning loading the bases three separate times. Armstrong knocked in two runs with a bouncing double past third and Anthony Woeltje added a two-run single to pull within 9-4 still with no one out. But Titans reliever Dominik Marcoccio got Jake Beaver, Grant Lackey, and Sechrist in order without allowing another run as Flowery Branch left the bases loaded.
After Blessed Trinity increased it to a 14-4 lead in the top of the fifth, Marcoccio worked around an error in the bottom of the inning to close the door on any Falcons comeback.