BUFORD — Tony Wolfe does his best to avoid dwelling on the streak.
The Buford softball coach prefers to approach each season on its own merits, shying away from thinking or talking too much about the Lady Wolves’ unprecedented string of consecutive state championships, which now stands at seven.
But even for someone as focused as Wolfe, it’s difficult to completely ignore the finer points of Buford’s quest for an eighth straight state title.
“I think one of the really neat things in looking for some uniqueness for us for our season, these seniors may be the first group of kids that will ever have the chance to win state championships in three classifications in four years,” Wolfe said. “I can’t imagine there are many classes in any school, any level, any sport that’s had that opportunity.
“Even our football team, those seniors aren’t having that chance, because the one year they lost was the last year in 2A. It just seems like it’s going to be a really unique thing for these seniors to try to accomplish. It’d take a historian a long time to research that, but schools just don’t jump twice, generally, as quickly as we have.”
Finding uniqueness within Buford’s overwhelming success is still possible after all this time, despite a seven-year stretch consisting of five consecutive state titles in Class AA and two more in Class AAA. There may be no better example of the Lady Wolves’ ability to continue breaking new ground than the 2013 season, which was impressive even when measured against their own lofty standards.
Led by seniors Morgan Walters and Niki Cook, the Lady Wolves’ own version of thunder and lightning in the lineup, Buford cruised to a program-best 37-1 record behind an offense that generated 9.84 runs per game and a team batting average of .411. Those numbers shattered Buford’s previous season bests of 6.84 runs per game (2011) and a .354 team average (2010, 2011).
“I really think last year’s team was probably the best one we’ve had here, especially when you look at statistics and record against quality opponents,” Wolfe said. “This team just needs to try to be the best it can. We’ll never get caught up in that trap of trying to emulate or match last year.
“We didn’t lose many players, but we lost really important parts. We graduated one senior (Walters) that had 17 home runs and 60 RBIs, graduated another senior (Cook) that had like 34 RBIs and 37 stolen bases — which is a rare combination of speed and run production — and we graduated a four-year starting catcher. Those are just the kind of things you don’t automatically replace.”
No other Buford player came close to matching Cook’s single-season program record .561 batting average last season, and no two Buford players combined posted numbers equal to Walters’ home run total.
Beyond that loss of run production, Buford also faces new challenges this season with the move to Class AAAA, after spending only two years in Class AAA.
None of this, however, means the Lady Wolves are any less the favorites to win the state title than in past years.
Buford returns seven starters, including a fourth-year starting pitcher in Bria Bush, a pair of fourth-year starting infielders in first baseman Tessa Daniels and second baseman Jordan Deep, and two other infielders going into their third year of starting experience — junior shortstop Drew Puckett and junior third baseman Baylee Sexton. In the outfield, senior center fielder Sydney Stavro and senior right fielder Remy Hasty, another fourth-year starter, are also back.
“There’s very few teams that are going to start the number of people with that many years experience as we have,” Wolfe said. “So, we like what we have, we just know we’ve got to fit it all back together and find some girls to fill those two or three spots.”
Deep, a Georgia Tech commit, was second on the team with 21 extra-base hits last season, including eight home runs, and could help fill some of the void left by Walters.
The second baseman believes that while she and the Lady Wolves’ six other seniors will take on bigger leadership roles, they’ll get plenty of help from the underclassmen.
“Hopefully as seniors we step up and do our part as the leaders of the team, but I feel like a bunch of younger kids are going to step up this year, too,” she said. “We’re all just going to work together and play as a team.”
While Buford appears unlikely to match its run production from a season ago, its pitching could be even better than last year.
Besides bringing back Bush, a Tennessee commit who went 18-1 with a 0.61 ERA and struck out 109 batters in 103 2/3 innings last year, Wolfe also expects a bounce-back season in the circle from Florida State-bound Daniels.
According to Wolfe, Bush and Daniels were pitching options 1A and 1B in the circle during their freshman year, before injuries began to limit Daniels’ innings.
“Freshman year was my first and only year that I came in healthy (prior to this year),” Daniels said. “My sophomore year I had a torn hamstring and I broke my back — a chronic stress fracture — but that’s something where I’ve done therapy and I feel great, the best I’ve been for three years.
“This is the first year since freshman year that I’ll be able to start back pitching (with) a little more confidence on the mound, so I’m hoping I can help my team out that way.”
Buford is looking to dethrone defending Class AAAA champion Northwest Whitfield, which won the crown each of the past two seasons.
The Lady Wolves should find out where they stand against the Lady Bruins later this month, when they travel to Tunnel Hill for a round-robin tournament of champions that includes Northwest Whitfield, Class A champion Gordon Lee and Class AA champion Calhoun.
Bush believes the Lady Wolves’ past season schedules have them well prepared for the move to Class AAAA.
“There’s definitely confidence because we have played (teams from) higher (classifications) each year,” Bush said.
“If we only played our division every year, we might be more nervous moving up, but since we’ve played higher competition, we’ve prepared ourselves for anything that’s thrown at us.”
Buford (2-0) got the 2014 season off to a strong start with victories against South Forsyth and Milton on Saturday at South Forsyth High School. The Lady Wolves’ winning streak now stands at 27 games dating back to last season.
Hasty, a Georgia State commit, wants nothing more than to see that type of success continue until November, and end her high school career with her fourth state title in four years.
“It’s really, really important that we get this last one,” Hasty said.
“It’s just awesome. You can’t describe the feeling that you get to have this opportunity.”