BUFORD — Before their state quarterfinal series was over, the top two teams in Class AAA had abandoned playing baseball in favor of a makeshift game of Army on Gerald McQuaig Field.
There wasn’t much else to do.
A lightning delay forced Buford and Pike County off the field in the sixth inning of Game 3 on Wednesday with the Wolves leading 8-1 with two outs in the top of the sixth.
By the time the danger passed, heavy rains had essentially left the field unplayable, and with the precipitation forecasted to continue throughout the night, Pike County coach Don Hanson agreed to forego completing the official Georgia High School Association waiting period and award Buford the win.
Per GHSA rules, the official score went in the books as 4-1 since top-ranked Buford’s final four runs came in the top of the sixth and the inning was not completed.
“You hate to win a game like that,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said, “but we did some really good things (to get that lead).”
Buford (29-3) advances to the state semifinals to face the winner of the Callaway-Cartersville series. Pike County finishes the season 26-5.
The Wolves faced their first Game 3 of the 2014 playoffs on Wednesday after splitting the first two games of the series with the second-ranked Pirates Tuesday night.
Wolfe was pleased with the way his players responded.
“They say sports reveals character, and we feel like we revealed some tonight,” Wolfe said. “Our kids were resilient through a lot of different adversities.
“Even just the pressure of being in a Game 3, because for the first two rounds it didn’t look like we’d ever see one. You never know how kids are going to respond in those situations. I don’t think we played our best, but I thought we certainly played well enough to get out of here with the win.”
Wolves starting pitcher Kevin Coulter repeatedly worked out of trouble after allowing Pike County, which won the coin toss and played as the home team, to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a wild pitch.
Coulter stranded eight Pirate baserunners during his five innings of work, including seven over the last three innings. The right-hander allowed a total of four hits and four walks while striking out three.
His record now stands at 10-0 this season.
“Coulter gave us a great effort on the mound after he kind of got settled in,” Wolfe said. “He fought the weather and the slippery ball and slippery mound, so we’re really pleased with him.”
The Wolves quickly recovered from their early deficit by scoring a pair of runs in the top of the second.
Austin Upshaw drew a leadoff walk and scored on a double by Nick Wilhite, who advanced to third on a sac bunt and scored on a sac fly by Hunter Puckett.
Buford added a pair of insurance runs in the third on a two-out, two-run homer by Upshaw after Jake Higginbotham drew a one-out walk. The rain began to fall about the same time, and playing conditions deteriorated the rest of the way.
Upshaw, Buford’s starting shortstop, caught two bad breaks in the field in the bottom of the fifth, while Pike presented its biggest offensive threat of the night.
A ground ball off the bat of Pike County’s Kole Adams took a bad hop in the mud on Upshaw to start the inning, and he was later denied a force out at second base on a close call that allowed the Pirates to load the bases.
Coulter then got Kurt Cox to ground another ball to Upshaw, who emphatically jumped on second base for the final out of the inning.
“I can’t say enough about the three guys that threw this weekend,” Wolfe said. “Hopefully we can keep them healthy and they can keep going to work and doing the things they’ve done so far. They’ve been really special so far through these first three rounds.”
Players from both teams suffered injuries in the sixth inning during one wild play that turned into a three-run, inside-the-park home run which ultimately did not count after the rain delay.
With two runners on base and Buford leading 5-1 after an RBI single by Jake Mayo, Patrick Burnette lofted a ball to deep right field.
Pike County outfielder Tyler Gregory gave chase and tried to make a diving catch on the warning track, but instead slid head first into a post along the outfield fence.
According to Wolfe, Gregory was briefly knocked unconscious. He stayed down on the field for several minutes before eventually leaving under his own power.
Burnette came all the way around to score only to twist his ankle after crossing the plate. He had to be helped off the field by two of his teammates.
Gregory’s injury halted the game until lightning was detected in the area, forcing players off the field and fans out of the stands.
Once the severe weather passed and it became apparent that the game would not resume, players from both squads passed the time by turning baseballs, bats and even fruit into pretend weapons, often sliding across the soggy infield to lob bananas into each other’s dugouts for harmless entertainment.
It was an oddly fitting end to a wild game — and a series that provided Buford’s biggest test of the season.
“I think our kids have a lot of respect for Pike County and certainly after yesterday knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Wolfe said. “We talk a lot about having a mental plan for going up 3-0 or going down 2-0.
“Baseball’s a funny game and you just have to keep playing inning after inning and if you play it well enough, sooner or later it’ll go your way. I was really proud of the way we responded after getting down in that first inning.”