BUFORD — Samantha Thomas and Tessa Daniels have identical expectations for the Buford softball program in the upcoming state championship rounds, even though they have very different experiences playing in Columbus.
Either way, both played a pivotal role for Class AAAA’s top-ranked Lady Wolves (33-1) in Wednesday’s second-round sweep of St. Pius X, 11-0 and 12-0, as they seek their eighth straight state championship.
Making its 10th straight appearance in the championship rounds, Buford is still alive as one of the eight teams competing for the state title. Matchups are still to be determined for games that start Oct. 30 at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to play in Columbus with my teammates,” said Thomas, a sophomore who was along for the ride for the 2013 state championship win.
For Daniels, a staple for the Lady Wolves since her freshman season, this is her fourth trip to Columbus.
The Florida State bound left-hander threw a complete game in Game 2 for Buford — her first appearance in the pitching circle since suffering a pinched nerve in her neck pitching against South Forsyth the opening weekend of the season. Since then, Daniels has been a constant in the lineup, playing first base.
In the best-of-three series against St. Pius X, Daniels allowed just a pair of hits and two walks to close out the series sweep in Game 2. Daniels also provided a three-run triple in the third inning of Game 2, after the Golden Lions’ center fielder was unable to track down a fly ball while running toward her right.
“I’m so confident in our team right now,” Daniels said. “We have a team based on family and faith.
“We believe through God, anything is possible.”
Even with seven consecutive state championships under his belt, Buford coach Tony Wolfe said it’s very easy for every group to carve out its own identity. Every year, he reinforces the idea that each season’s crop of players can only win the state title once together.
“Every year, we’re trying to keep this family together as long as we can,” Wolfe said. “And Nov. 1 (the day of the state championship game) is as long as we can stay together.”
In the second round playoff series, Buford started Game 1 fast with three runs in each of the first two innings, followed by five runs during its final at bat in the third.
Thomas was a constant at the plate in both games, jolting a two-run home run in each outing. Thomas’ two-run homer in Game 1 came as the last shot for Buford in the third inning. Then in Game 2, she hit a line-drive ball that cleared the left-field fence with ease.
She now has nine home runs on the season.
“She’s a special player with the bat in her hands,” Wolfe said.
Daniels’ outing in Game 2 was a sign she’s back to full strength after suffering a pinched nerve, along with thumb and foot injuries all since the season began. The only jam Daniels faced came in the bottom of the second when St. Pius X got its first two runners on base with a single by Sydney Lalonia and walk to Elise Leicht.
Daniels locked in after that by recording a strikeout looking for the first out, a pop fly to third base for the second out and a grounder down to first base for the final out of the inning.
Jordan Deep had a two-run single in Game 2 for the Lady Wolves, and established a school record with her 169th career hit that came early in Game 1.
Six different Buford players had a hit in Game 2, including a two-run double by Lauren Jones in the fourth inning, and Sydney Stavro’s two-run double in the third inning.
Bria Bush (16-0) earned the victory in Game 1, allowing just a fifth-inning double and recording eight strikeouts for her 13th complete game of the season. In addition to a two-run homer in the first game, Thomas also had a two-run double in the second inning for Buford.
Baylee Sexton and Deep also drove in runs in the third inning for the Lady Wolves, who have not lost since a 5-0 defeat to Gordon Lee on Aug. 23 in Dalton.