Buford vs. Southeast Bulloch
When: Noon Thursday
Where: South Commons Softball Complex, Columbus
If it’s late October, the weather is usually cooling down, baseball is preparing to crown its World Series winner and the Buford High softball team is on its way to Columbus.
It’s been that way every year since 2005.
The city on the Chattahoochee River hosts the state softball finals during the final week of October each year, culminating with the semifinals and the championship game on Saturday.
Each of the past six years the Lady Wolves have extended their stay to the final day, finishing third in 2005 and 2006 before winning the last four state titles.
Buford (29-10, No. 2 Region 6-AA) opens the weekend with a game at noon Thursday against Southeast Bulloch (22-7-2, No. 2 Region 3-AA) at the South Commons Softball Complex.
The Lady Wolves are now just a few wins away from a state-record fifth consecutive state championship, but they know that it won’t be handed to them just because they’ve done it before.
“You have to earn it every time out,” Wolves coach Tony Wolfe said. “Its a dogfight to get to Columbus, and it gets even tougher once you arrive there.”
Unlike the first few rounds of the state tournament, the finals are a double-elimination tournament. The first game is strictly to determine who advances in the winners bracket or falls into the losers bracket.
This year’s trip for Buford starts against a Southeast Bulloch squad that is young, but talented on the mound.
“We have a strong freshman pitcher (Sierra Peebles) and a defense and offense that has continued to improve from the beginning of the season,” said Yellow Jackets coach Aimee Civalier. “This should be a fun and exciting match-up.”
The school from Brooklet may not have the same pedigree as Buford in Class AA, but it’s not far behind, having reached the state quarterfinals five of the last seven years, including a third-place finish in 2008.
It’s nothing new for Buford; Wolfe’s teams have all faced stiff competition, but they have also all won. In each of his first four seasons at the helm, the longtime baseball and softball coach has seen his team leave with a state title.
“It’s more than I could have ever hoped for,” Wolfe said. “It’s really having great kids, and a great coaching staff.
“We’ve had a pretty good run.”
This isn’t, however, the same Buford team that has won four consecutive state titles.
“We lost five starters from a year ago, only two starters from last year are in the same positions, and we start four freshmen,” Wolfe said. “Anytime you do that, you’re really starting over.
“But for the most part we’ve been able to sustain that level of play.”
A lot of that has to do with the eight returning seniors, including veteran infielders Kallie Case (team-high .481 batting average, 44 stolen bases, four home runs) and Lexi Overstreet (.461 average, team-high 13 home runs, 49 RBIs). Both are making their fourth trip to Columbus.
The established Buford players have been invaluable to the freshmen on and off the field, letting them in on what it’s like to play for a state title.
“Our seniors have done a great job all year of walking the young kids through and giving them an idea of what we expect,” Wolfe said. “We’ve got eight seniors with a world of experience in Columbus.”
Those seniors have been complemented this season by the four newcomers, including infielder Jordan Deep (.407 average, 32 RBIs, six home runs) and outfielder Remington Hasty (.455 avg., .538 on-base percentage), not to mention both freshmen starting pitchers: Bria Bush and Tessa Daniels.
Bush, who leads the team in strikeouts in the pitching circle with 89, is 10-4 with a 0.89 ERA and three shutouts in 87 innings pitched. Daniels, who leads the team with a 14-3 record and 106 1/3 innings pitched, threw six shutouts and finished 14 of her 15 starts.
There’s a reason the two were penciled in at the beginning of the season to pitch the majority of the innings for a team with designs of yet another state title.
And yet, Daniels doesn’t feel any pressure.
“You would think you would have a lot of pressure, but there’s absolutely none,” she said. “It gets a lot of pressure off of you as a pitcher to have so many good seniors around you.”
The two young pitchers haven’t needed a lot of offense this season, but the Lady Wolves’ offense has still averaged six runs per game.
The defense has also been a blessing, especially for Daniels, a ground-ball pitcher.
“You’ve got to have confidence in your defense,” Daniels said.
Even though they haven’t experienced it yet, Daniels and the other freshmen are excited for the chance to represent the storied Buford softball program in its latest incarnation, a mix of youth and experience that has the Lady Wolves back to their familiar stomping grounds.
“I’m very excited,” Daniels said. “(The seniors) have been talking about this since day one.”
It’s the final ride down Interstate-85 to play high school softball for the eight seniors. Meanwhile, the freshmen will be trying to make it the first of four extended stays in Columbus.