It took extra innings, a play at the plate and an errant throw to determine the Region 8-AAAA softball champion Monday.
Buford (22-6) defeated North Hall 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning, using the international tie-breaker rule, to claim the title.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough game,” said Buford coach Tony Wolfe. “We had a really tight game earlier this year with them and felt fortunate to get a win.
“We weren’t really expecting a 1-0, extra-inning game.”
With the win, the eight-time defending state champion Buford hosts Woodward Academy to open the Class AAAA state tournament with a doubleheader in a best-of-three series Wednesday. As region runner-up, North Hall will host Troup County. Start time for both double-headers is 4:30 p.m.
In the region championship game, both teams entered the eighth inning without a run on the board, an extra inning rule allowed both offenses to start the frame with a runner on second base.
The Wolves started the eighth inning with Aislynn Kimbro on second base and pinch hitter Biz Walters batting.
Walters dragged a successful bunt down the first base line and reached base, before stealing second on the first pitch to Baylee Sexton.
Trojans’ pitcher Kendyl Chase intentionally walked Sexton to load the bases.
Buford catcher Lea Edwards put down a bunt to score Kimbro, but the Trojans reacted and got the force out at home.
In the excitement of getting the lead runner out, North Hall catcher Niki Carver threw the ball to second base to try to get a double play. The throw deflected off a teammate’s glove and into center field, allowing Walters to touch home plate for the victory.
“I can’t really explain it,” said North Hall coach Brooke Russell. “It’s a high because we got the big out at the plate. Then, all of a sudden, it’s just like, ‘What’s happening?’
“It hurts a little more. If it’s earned on a base hit or something like that, it’s easier to take,” she continued. “Like I told them (after the game), I’m still proud of them.”
Wolfe agreed with Russell, saying he’d rather win the game on something his team did rather than the opponent throwing the ball away.
“Obviously, we’re excited and thrilled to get the win,” Wolfe said. “To be honest, you certainly hate to lose the game like that, but, truthfully, it doesn’t feel quite as good to win it like that.”
Still, he knows that his team has worked hard to earn the title of region champions and he won’t be taking that for granted.
In what turned out to be a pitchers’ duel, sophomore Logan Caymol tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and two walks for Buford.
For North Hall, Chase threw 7 1/3 innings, striking out six and giving up three hits and the final, unearned run. She also allowed two walks.
Camila Howell had the lone hit for North Hall, a fifth-inning single to right field.
North Hall (20-8) started with Howell on second, but the first batter up for the Lady Trojans was unable to move her over and struck out.
Lead-off batter Kailee Dyer was able to get the bunt down and move Howell to third. With two outs on the board, a fly out ended the Trojans’ threat.
For the Wolves, Breanna Gutierrez was 2 for 3 at the plate. Samantha Thomas delivered the other hit for Buford — the first of the game — with a double to center field.
For Buford, the goal now turns to winning a ninth-consecutive state championship. Winning region is a positive step to that goal.
“That’s the ultimate goal is to try to find a way to win that ninth,” Wolfe said. “You have to do it step by step. You don’t have to win a region title to win a state title, but it certainly helps your confidence.”
For North Hall, it’s the first trip to the state playoffs in nearly a decade.
“We’re definitely excited about that,” Russell said. “I’m super proud of them. We’ve done much better as a group this year. They’ve been a lot of fun to coach this year. I’m just excited to keep on keeping on.”