BUFORD — There’s a big baseball game tonight at Buford.
In a doubleheader dominated by pitching, Pike County scored an unearned run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh of the second game to beat Buford 1-0 Tuesday and force a decisive Game 3.
The Wolves took the first game, 3-1, behind a dominating 14-strikeout performance from ace Jake Higginbotham. Pike County’s Tristin English responded with a complete-game shutout in Game 2.
Game 3 will start at 5:55 p.m. The winner advances to the Class AAA state semifinals and will face the Cartersville-Callaway winner. Those two teams also play a Game 3 today.
“We’ll try to regroup and find our bats,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said.
Kevin Coulter will start for Buford in Game 3. Coulter is 9-0 on the season and has his coach’s full confidence.
“We really don’t think he’s a (No.) 3 starter,” Wolfe said of Coulter. “If we get to the next round, he would probably throw Game 2.”
Wolfe said Higginbotham will not be available for tonight’s game.
Pike County coach Don Hanson declined to name his Game 3 starting pitcher.
“Wow, what a couple of games,” said Hanson, whose team makes the two-hour trip back to Buford today.
GAME 1, BUFORD 3, PIKE COUNTY 1: Higginbotham struck out seven straight batters during one stretch and didn’t allow a hit until a fourth-inning double by Dustin Hammond. He escaped jams in the sixth and seventh innings with clutch strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
Higginbotham, a Clemson commit, allowed one run on six hits with the 14 strikeouts and only one walk.
The Wolves did all their damage in the second inning. Patrick Burnette and Ben Wicker had RBI singles and scored runs. Burnette’s single drove home Nick Wilhite, who jump-started the inning with a leadoff single. Wicker followed with an RBI single that plated Hunter Puckett. Austin Wilhite’s sacrifice fly brought home Burnette, who eluded the catcher’s tag on a throw up the third base line.
The Pirates threatened in the sixth and seventh innings, but were unable to knock Higginbotham out of the game. He struck out English with runners on first and third to end the sixth and then struck out Tyler Gregory looking with runners on second and third to end the game. Both clutch strikeouts came on curveballs.
Bill Clark doubled to left with one out in the seventh, scoring courtesy runner Dalton Hately for the Pirates’ only run. It was the first run given up by a Buford starter in the playoffs, and it could have been worse for the Wolves. Clark’s double bounced over the outfield fence, a break for Buford that prevented Kain English from scoring.
GAME 2, PIKE COUNTY 1, BUFORD 0: Tristin English, a hard-throwing right-hander, struck out 12 and allowed only four hits. He didn’t seem to tire, and sat down the Wolves in order in the seventh.
“Tristin is one of those kids who could be over 100 pitches and still get mad if you even think about taking him out,” Hanson said.
Buford starter Connor Bennett matched English pitch-for-pitch, allowing just two hits and striking out 13.
But he plunked English to lead off the seventh, and it would prove costly. After a sacrifice bunt and intentional bunt, Bennett struck out Kain English for the second out.
Bennett looked like he was going to get out of the inning, when he induced a fly ball to left field from Pike County’s Clark. But Buford left fielder Caleb Moore misplayed it and had the ball carom off his glove. Courtesy runner Hunter Durham raced home for the winning run.