BUFORD — The Buford Wolves are headed to the Class AAAA baseball state championship with a series sweep 7-3, 6-4 over Eastside on Monday at Gerald McQuiag Field.
It wasn’t easy.
The Eastside Eagles battled hard all day and into the night, but some timely hitting and clutch pitching put Buford over the top and into the finals to face Locust Grove.
In 2015, Buford topped Whitewater for the state championship.
GAME 1: Buford fought through some early struggles to take Game 1 of the Class AAAA semifinal series, 7-3.
Buford took an early lead after scoring a run in each of the first two innings, the latter on an RBI from Nathan Haines.
Then came the top of the third, and the Eastside Eagles bats didn’t miss a swing. Riley Rolston started off the scoring, followed by an RBI from Austin Holloway and then another from Nick Womack.
The mental fortitude of pitcher Justin Glover was tested as even Buford coach Tony Wolfe came out to talk to him in the middle of the inning. Glover stayed tough, however, and even though the Wolves were now down 3-2, it could have been much worse.
“I felt good the entire game,” Glover said. “The third inning, something clicked for them and something was off for me, but I was able to find it again and get back to what I’m best at and that’s getting ahead of batters and throwing strikes.”
Buford had a chance to answer in the bottom of the third, but Brandon Marsh was thrown out trying to steal third after the Eastside catcher bobbled the pitch. This killed any momentum Buford had in the inning.
The Wolves kept Eastside off the scoreboard in the top of the fourth and took control of the game in the bottom of the inning.
Marsh, perhaps atoning for his earlier mistake, drove in the tying run and then with the bases loaded, Nick Wilhite came up to bat.
Wilhite crushed a bases clearing triple off the left-center field wall.
“My goal was just to get a hit,” Wilhite said. “Whether it was a single or a double, just to get at least one or two runs in and that’s what I did.”
Buford took the lead 6-3 before adding an insurance run in the top of the sixth. Then, after regaining his composure, Glover recorded the complete game win.
GAME 2: The top of the third was another big inning between the two squads, this time in Buford’s favor as the Wolves went on to top Eastside, 6-4.
The game was scoreless heading into the third and it almost stayed that way.
Buford loaded the bases with no outs leading to Eastside getting a force out at home, where a collision with the catcher sparked words on the field and ignited chants from both sections of the crowd.
After play resumed, Eastside struck out Griffin Jolliff for the second out of the inning. Next up, with two strikes against him, Glover hit a double to the right field wall, scoring all three base runners.
“Under the circumstance, I think that was all adrenaline to be honest with you,” Glover said. “I saw the pitch, (the pitcher) hung a curveball and I was able to get all of it. It felt a lot better off the bat than it actually went. I was a little surprised it didn’t go out, but I was just happy to be able to drive in those runs.”
Jolliff had a strong outing on the mound in Game 2 going 5 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts. He had a shutout into the sixth inning.
In the top of the sixth, Marsh hit an RBI single to put Buford up 4-0. It looked like the Wolves were poised to cruise to a victory, but the Eagles didn’t make it to the state semifinals by accident.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Eagles loaded the bases after third baseman Tyler Perkins bobbled a potential double play that would have ended the inning.
Jolliff was pulled after he walked in a run on four straight pitches.
With the score 4-2, Austin Wilhite came to pitch in relief with the bases still loaded with two outs. Wilhite promptly threw a strikeout to end the Eastside threat.
Buford’s Tanner Alexander batted in an insurance run and the Wolves scored another one on an error in the top of the seventh.
With the Wolves ahead 6-2 and an out away from the championship round, Nick Wilhite came up just short on a diving attempt at a fly ball to center field. This scored two Eastside runs and gave the Eagles a chance, but Austin had his brother’s back.
Austin Wilhite struck out the next Eastside batter looking to end the game and send the Wolves to the championship round with the location to be determined via coin flip.
“It’s really special,” Wolfe said. “Getting there, you never take that for granted even when you have a talented team. I’m really excited for our kids and our community and just really appreciate the effort our kids have given all year long and the way they’ve gone about their business and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
For Eastside, it was a tough end to a fantastic season.
“They represented Covington and Eastside better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Eastside coach Bruce Evans said. “They represented them in character, in heart and effort and went toe-to-toe with the best program in the state. There is no shame in anything that we did.”