BUFORD — Buford coach Tony Wolfe knows his squad’s season was a resounding success, even though it came to a close with a 5-4 loss in eight innings against Pierce County in the state quarterfinals Wednesday in Buford.
The best-of-three playoff series was forced to Game 3 after the teams split Tuesday’s doubleheader at Gerald McQuaig Field. On Wednesday, it was Pierce County’s (26-6) Will White who lifted the Bears to victory. He threw six innings and 90 pitches in relief in Game 3, after throwing three innings and 60 total pitches in the series opener, said his coach, Greg Gay.
Still, the Wolves’s (22-12) coach was proud of his team’s composure after starting the season 2-7 and making it through a difficult Region 6-AA just to make the playoffs.
“To play as well as we did this season is a credit to our kids,” Wolfe said. “They were able to rebound from a slow start and just kept working.
“I’m very proud of the way they played.”
Tied 4-all in the bottom of the eighth, White got on to start the inning with an infield single to third base and didn’t draw a throw to first. He scored the winning run on a walk-off single by Cole Dowling three batters later.
Pierce County lost each of the past two seasons in the state quarterfinals, and in the second round when a handful of its current starters were freshmen in 2009 against Blessed Trinity.
“We’ve been to the final eight for three years straight, and were used to getting put out at this point,” Gay said. “Making it to the state semifinals is not just a four-month process for our team, but a four-year deal.
“It’s something our program deserves.”
Buford was hampered by leaving 15 runners on base. The Wolves loaded the bases three times in the first two innings and only came away with one run. In each of the final three innings, the Wolves left a pair of runners on base, including in the eighth, which ended with Pierce County turning a double play to get out of the inning.
“We just missed too many opportunities today,” Wolfe said. “We had our chances and let them slip away from us.”
Buford loaded the bases in the first inning with a pair of two-out hits and a walk by Mikey Bart, but couldn’t score a run. Then in the second, Buford loaded the bases with singles from Brian Malone, Joey Bart and a bunt single down the third base line from Cam Gazaway. A balk by Pierce County’s pitcher allowed Buford’s first run to score, but the Bears hurler recorded the final out on a strikeout after the Wolves’ loaded the bases again.
In the third inning, Buford loaded the bases again and cashed in with three runs. Joey Bart ripped an RBI single, Gazaway was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to plate another run and Austin Upshaw drew a bases-loaded walk to plate the inning’s final run.
Pierce County tied the score at 4-all in the bottom of the third inning with an RBI single from Brian Barefield; Nate Gay reached on a fielder’s choice to plate another run.
Buford had another promising rally in the seventh when Malone had a single down the third base line and Joey Bart reached on an infield ground ball to second that the fielder threw off line to second base with just one out in the inning.
However, Pierce County recorded the final two outs on strikeouts, the first of which came on a bunt attempt with two strikes in the count.
With the loss, Buford’s season is now complete. Pierce County will play the winner of Wednesday’s Lovett/Calhoun game in the state semifinals.