BUFORD — When Buford missed its best chance to take the lead, Locust Grove found the opening it needed.
The Wildcats scored two runs in the top of the fifth to break a tie game and defeat the Wolves 3-1 in Game 3 of the Class AAAA state title series Monday at Gerald McQuaig Field. A half inning earlier, Buford tied the game 1-1 but failed to pull ahead despite loading the bases with nobody out.
“Locust Grove played really well all three games up here, played exceptionally well today,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “The biggest difference is they were able to come up with a hit or two (at the right times), and we had some (missed) chances. ... In a 3-1 game it doesn’t take much to swing it.”
While Buford (32-5) failed to repeat as state champions, Locust Grove (33-5-1) earned its first title in school history. Three of the Wolves’ five losses this season came at the hands of the Wildcats.
“I feel so bad for the seniors especially,” Wolfe said, because they so badly wanted to go out as champions, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Wildcats’ leadoff hitter Joah Curry reached base all four times he came to plate via three walks and a double, and scored the final run of the game on a wild pitch. Trevor Sellers and Colton Bailey delivered RBI singles for the Wildcats.
Locust Grove starting pitcher Christian Young picked up the victory on the mound, allowing five hits, three walks and a run while striking out four over five innings.
“Coming into the game, I didn’t know how many innings we’d be able to get out of him, but he bowed his neck and went out there and competed,” Locust Grove coach Stephen Phillips said. “He worked out of two big-time jams and he only gave up one run, so just huge for a senior kid to step up like that and get it done.”
Young outdueled Buford junior Frank Bradshaw, who allowed two runs over 4 À innings. Bradshaw gave up three hits, walked three and struck out two.
“We couldn’t have asked more from him,” Wolfe said of Bradshaw. “We’ve got to give him more support than that.”
Locust Grove broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth. Odlanier Rodriguez led off the inning with a single, later stole second and scored on a base hit by Sellers.
Buford responded in the bottom of the frame after Nick Wilhite and Justin Glover drew walks on each side of a single by Griffin Joliff. Noah Ledford (2 for 3) followed and ripped the first pitch he saw to left field to score Wilhite, but the Wolves couldn’t capitalize further and left the bases loaded.
The missed opportunity proved costly in the top of the fifth. Moody drew a one-out walk from Bradshaw, and Curry followed by drawing a walk off Buford reliever Clay Dickie.
Bailey then ripped a single to right field, and Moody slid across home plate just ahead of the tag from Buford catcher Nathan Haines. Curry later scored on a wild pitch.
“We really worked today before we came (here) on shortening up (swings), just trying to put (the ball) somewhere so we’d have a chance to score,” Phillips said.
Buford threatened in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of a single by Brandon Marsh (3 for 4) and an error that allowed Wilhite to reach base.
Joliff then dropped a blooper into shallow left-center, and Marsh was ruled safe at third base as he tried to beat the throw. However, the umpires conferred and the home plate umpire overruled the call, calling Marsh out.
“I’m disappointed that an umpire didn’t get in a little better position to make the call,” Wolfe said. “The right or wrong part was never my argument. The argument was that with four umpires, (the fact that) we couldn’t get somebody within 60 feet of third base was disappointing. ... But at the end of the day, that one call didn’t decide the game.”
Rodriguez did the rest for the Wildcats on the mound. The senior right-hander relieved Young for the final two innings and retired all six Buford batters he faced, including the first four via strikeout.
Buford won Game 1 of the series-opening doubleheader 3-2 on Saturday, before falling to Locust Grove 4-2 in Game 2. The Wildcats also dealt the Wolves a 3-0 loss during a regular-season meeting.