Buford vs. Wayne County
When: 4:15 p.m. Thursday
Nothing brings Baylee Sexton a spike in her adrenaline like the yearly trip she’s made to play with the Buford High softball program for the state tournament.
This year, it’s even bigger as Sexton, a senior, is making the journey for the three-day event with the Lady Wolves (26-6) for the final time.
As one of eight programs left playing for the Class AAAA state championship, Sexton is well aware of the atmosphere that pooling the top programs for all six classifications brings to the softball complex in Columbus.
As a constant factor in the state championship race, Buford always brings a strong showing of fans three hours south.
This season, Buford is going for its ninth consecutive state crown.
“It’s something I’ve never taken for granted,” said Sexton, who is Buford’s starting third baseman. “The past three years, I’ve soaked it in as much as possible.”
The Lady Wolves open against Wayne County — a rematch of the 2014 first round — at 4:15 p.m. Thursday in Columbus.
“I’m ecstatic to be going back to play again in Columbus,” Lady Wolves junior second baseman Samantha Thomas said.
This season has been one much different than the other state championship runs for the Lady Wolves since 2007.
Buford graduated six starters from the 2014 squad, five now playing softball at the Division-I level.
Buford scratched and clawed its way though a challenging early-season schedule and enters the state tournament on an 11-game winning streak. All along the way, the Lady Wolves have found a way to come out on top of the biggest games, thanks to a lineup led by Sexton (.480 avg.) and Thomas (.433 avg., 15 home runs, 48 RBIs).
Despite only fielding three returning starters from 2014, Buford won 1-0 in eight innings against North Hall for the Region 8-AAAA on Oct. 12. The Lady Wolves also topped Thomas County Central 1-0 in the second game of the second-round series in Buford.
“I think what helped us is our poise, defensively,” said Buford coach Tony Wolfe, who has compiled a 290-39-2 with the program. “We’ve managed to not make the costly mistake in the tight games.”
Five of Buford’s losses this season were against Class AAAAAA programs. Wolfe noted the Lady Wolves have played five of the eight teams in the highest classification playing this week in Columbus.
“Now that we’re going to Columbus, we’re hoping to play our best ball all season,” said Wolfe.
Since 2003, the Lady Wolves have compiled a 41-8 mark in games played at the end-of-season tournament in Columbus.
One of the constants for all those great teams has been superb pitching. In the circle this season for Buford, seniors Peyton Wolfe (14-0, 2.06 ERA) and Kennedy Kotula, and sophomore Tennessee verbal pledge Logan Caymol (7-1) have led the way.
Right now, Kotula is pitching her best all season, according to Wolfe, including a shutout win in the Thomas County Central series.
Playing at Buford also comes with a great sense of responsibility to carry on the tradition of excellence.
“We can’t be the class that breaks the state championship streak,” said Thomas.
This season, Buford has a group of seniors who have made the trip to Columbus for six or seven years in some cases.
Buford’s winningest pitcher, Peyton Wolfe, is the coach’s daughter. Puckett has made the trip with the Wolfe family about six times since they were kids, dreaming of the day they would suit up wearing the Buford green and gold.
Sexton recalls going to Columbus with her father Brian just as long, to cheer on the Lady Wolves, knowing one day she, too, would be on the field. The power-hitting Thomas has been for quite a few years too, she said.
Now Buford is four wins away from bringing another state championship trophy back.
“I’m so proud of how hard our entire team has worked this season,” said Sexton. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we make it happen.”