BUFORD — If Buford hopes to make its eighth consecutive trip to Columbus for the softball state championships, it must beat Franklin County today in the deciding Game 3 of a second round playoff series. On Wednesday, Class AAA’s top-ranked Lady Wolves (27-3) opened with a split in the best-of-three, winning the first game 4-0 and losing the second 8-0.
“We had one good inning in the first game and Franklin County had one good inning in the second game,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said.
Game 3 is set for 6 p.m. tonight in Buford.
A winner-take-all scenario in the playoffs is not new for Buford. Last season, the Lady Wolves were pushed to three games in the second round against North Murray. Buford won the deciding third game of the series, 8-2, and went on to win its fifth consecutive state title in Class AA.
This season, Buford is facing a different set of circumstances with a younger roster and playing a classification higher than the previous five state titles.
“We’ll find out what we’re made of tonight,” Wolfe added.
Buford sophomore Bria Bush was the difference maker in Game 1, throwing a complete-game shutout and compiling 10 strikeouts from the pitching circle. She’ll take to the circle again for Game 3 tonight.
“We won as a team and lost as a team tonight,” Bush said. “We just have to get past today and come out ready to play (today).”
After struggling for much of Game 1 offensively, Buford broke it open with a four-run sixth inning. Remington Hasty and Jordan Deep started the inning with consecutive hits. Then with both runners in scoring position with no outs, Tessa Daniels slapped a two-run double just above the glove of Franklin County’s first baseman.
Bekah Rude followed with a bunt and reached base on a throwing error, scoring Buford’s third run of the inning. The final run scored on a sacrifice fly from Noah Sudderth. Four of Buford’s five hits came in the sixth inning.
Franklin County only challenged twice offensively in Game 1. In the first inning, the Lady Lions (25-11) got a lead-off single from Mackenzie Oliver, who stole second base. However, Bush got out of the inning with a pair of Franklin County strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning.
In the fifth inning, Franklin County’s Leigh Beatenbough reached on a one-out single. Bush recorded the final out of the inning for Buford when she hit the inside corner on a 3-2 count with two outs to get out of the inning.
“Bria pitched very well for us tonight,” Wolfe said.
FRANKLIN COUNTY 8, BUFORD 0: In Game 2, Taylor Waldrop pitched four scoreless innings and had a lead-off triple as part of a seven-run second inning for the Lady Lions. Cassie Hall and Meagan Lovell had RBI singles for Franklin County, and Kendsey Chappelear had a two-run double to round out the inning.
Franklin County also pushed two runs across as a result of throwing errors.
Buford had two scoring opportunities in the second game. In the top of the third, Drew Puckett walked and Jazmin Hawkins reached on a single with no outs. However, Franklin County’s Waldrop recorded the final three hitters in order to get out of the jam.
In the fifth inning, Rude, Puckett and Hawkins walked in order to start the inning, before Beatenbough in relief retired the next three in order to preserve the shutout.
Franklin County is seeking its first trip to Columbus since 2003.