GAINESVILLE — On Senior Night at Chestatee, a Flowery Branch freshman may have provided a season-ending blow to the War Eagles.
Baxley O’Brien drove in Andrew Armstrong with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning that proved to be the difference in the Falcons’ 2-1 victory at Talon Field.
The win clinched the No. 3 seed in Region 7-4A for Flowery Branch (14-11-2, 7-4 Region 7-4A) in a game that Chestatee (12-13, 4-7 Region 7-4A) had to have as well to stay in the playoff hunt. The War Eagles now face a must-win against the Falcons on Friday at the Hog Mountain Sports Complex -- they will need help as they fight for the final playoff spot with Denmark.
O’Brien’s game-winner came after a pair of ugly strikeouts in his previous two at-bats. That did not deter Falcons coach Joey Ray from sticking with the youngster in perhaps the biggest moment of the season.
“We told him before the at-bat that we believed in him and if he could compete at the plate and do this for the team,” Ray said. “He said he could and he came through for us. Really proud of him.”
For most of the way it looked like the War Eagles’ 1-0 lead, when Atticus Tomcho scored on a wild pitch in the third, would be more than enough, especially with senior Will Cantrell dealing on the mound. Cantrell had scattered just two hits, struck out eight, and stranded four Falcons baserunners through the first five innings. He finished with 12 strikeouts and walked just two in a complete-game effort.
Flowery Branch didn’t need much, however, and they got just enough in the sixth. Grant Lackey singled with one out and moved to second on a Chestatee error on an Andrew Armstrong ground ball that had a chance to be a double play. Kaleb Freeman followed with an RBI double scoring Lackey and Armstrong touched home on O’Brien’s sac fly for a 2-1 lead.
Junior southpaw Zander Sechrist matched Cantrell and made it stand up. Sechrist fanned 14, walked three, and was dominant most of the way as he also went the distance. For Sechrist, after hitting Caleb Carter in the third, he retired the final seven Chestatee batters and 15 of the final 16 overall with only Carter reaching on an infield hit in the fifth.
“I struggled in the first couple of innings but I kind of settled in after that,” Sechrist said. “We wanted to win this one bad to make sure we got in the playoffs.”
Ray said now they can begin their focus of trying to match last season’s run to the Class 5A semifinals.
“It’s always important to get your guys rolling at the right time and I feel like we’re getting there,” he said. “We’re still not completely settled on some positions so this will give us a chance to play some guys and get them ready for the playoffs. This game had a playoff atmosphere to it and hopefully, that will help us down the road.”
Connor Larson had a pair of hits for Flowery Branch. Jake Beaver also had a hit for the Falcons.