BUFORD — Next stop: Columbus.
Buford clinched a ninth consecutive trip to the state softball quarterfinals on Wednesday night, winning a pair of mercy-ruled games over Morgan County, 11-0 (five innings) and 15-7 (six innings) in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
Buford will be joined in Columbus by seven other teams from the classification, where it will compete for a record seventh straight state championship.
The Lady Wolves (33-1) will be the favorites to repeat. Again.
“It does feel good,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “I feel great for our players, especially our seniors, to get to go back again. To go four straight years is an incredible thing for them. And for our program, we are excited and proud.
“We feel like we’ve got a team that’s got a chance. We like what we bring to the table. We feel like we have a little of everything, offensively, defensively, and we feel like we pitch it pretty well, too. So we like our chances and we are going to be confident.”
Senior Morgan Walters hit a pair of three-run home runs to propel Buford’s offense in both wins on Wednesday.
Walters’ first home run came in the opening inning of Game 1, giving Buford a 3-0 lead. Then with the game tied at 1-1 in Game 2, Walters belted a third inning three-run homer to left field to put Buford ahead 5-1.
The Lady Wolves didn’t surrender the lead the remainder of either game following the homers.
“It is absolutely incredible to be part of such a great program,” said Walters, who transferred to Buford this season. “(It’s great) to be able to come in and contribute with all these great girls and coaches, and they’ve built a program so well here.”
After securing the 11-0 win in Game 1, Buford built on Walters’ home run in Game 2 to blow the game wide open.
The homer put the Lady Wolves ahead 4-1 and ignited their offense. They added another in the third inning when Remington Hasty drove in Baylee Sexton on a sac fly.
Buford tacked on six runs in the fourth inning on a two-run double by Hasty that scored Sexton and Niki Cook.
Then, Jordan Deep hit a two-run home run to straightaway center field to give Buford a 9-1 lead.
The Lady Wolves continued to pile on, adding a one-run triple from Walters, giving her four RBIs in the game. Walters scored later in the inning on a single from Drew Puckett.
“Hitting is contagious,” Walters said. “That is what everybody always says, and it is absolutely true, as you can see.”
Buford added a pair of runs in the fifth inning, as Daniels delivered a two-run single to score Cook and Hasty, before Morgan County rallied to score one run in the fourth inning and four in the fifth inning to force a sixth inning.
Buford added two runs in the top of the sixth inning on a home run by Samantha Thomas.
In Game 1, Buford unloaded on a pair of Morgan County pitchers in the third inning, scoring seven runs, before adding its final run of the game in the bottom of the fourth.
Walters drove in three runs in the first inning, crushing a home run to right-center field. In the third inning, seven different Lady Wolves scored runs, using six hits and three walks to bring the runs across the plate.
Bria Bush earned the win in the circle in Game 1 and Tessa Daniels earned the in Game 2. Bush pitched another shutout, allowing just four hits in five innings, while striking out three batters.
Daniels pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs, while striking out three batters and surrendering only four hits.
Neither pitcher appeared in Morgan County’s four-run fifth inning in Game 2.
Offensively, Buford finished the day with 27 hits, led by Walters’ 4 for 6 performance that included her pair of home runs, a triple and 8 RBIs.
Deep was 4 for 6 with 3 RBIs and Hasty contributed with three RBIs in Game 2, following another in the first game.