Class AAA state tournament in Columbus
Jackson County vs. Jackson, 11 a.m.
Buford vs. Central-Carrollton, 5 p.m.
Lumpkin County vs. Columbus, 11 a.m.
COLUMBUS — Behind two sterling outings by pitcher Bria Bush, the Buford softball team’s pursuit of a sixth consecutive state championship got off to a good start in Class AAA on Thursday in Columbus.
After cruising to a 7-1 victory over Jackson in the first round of the state tournament final, Bush struck out 12 batters en route to a 4-0, one-hit shutout over Chapel Hill.
With its second win, Buford sets up a matchup with Central-Carrollton in the third round, which will be played at 5 tonight. It also guarantees the Lady Wolves will be playing at least one game on Saturday. A win over Central-Carrollton would put them in the finals.
“We’re excited,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “That was important. We talked about how important that second game was. Now, we can at least get to Saturday and have a shot at it.”
In its win over Chapel Hill, Buford was in control from the opening pitches, though it could have done more damage than it did.
Leadoff hitter Niki Cook reach on an infield single to lead off the game. She was thrown out trying to steal second, but each of the next four batters reached.
Remington Hasty singled, Jordan Deep walked and Tessa Daniels singled. Hasty was thrown out trying to score on Daniels’ single, making it runners on first and third with two outs. Drew Puckett came through for the Lady Wolves, however, hitting a two-out triple and plating two runs.
Those were all Bush would need.
Bush, a sophomore who had already tossed five innings in the opener, took control early for Buford.
She struck out the side in the first inning and two in each of the second, third and fourth innings. She allowed just a single in the second.
“She was great in both games,” said Wolfe, though he noted that she may have controlled her pitches in the first.
“She was maybe a little more (dominant) in Game 1. She probably got a little tired in Game 2. She had a few more walks than normal, but it was just a great effort.”
Buford added insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Daniels reached on an infield single in the fifth and came around to score on an RBI single from Jazmin Hawkins two batters later. In the sixth, Sydney Stavros led off the inning with a triple, then scored on a fielder’s choice by Hasty.
Daniels provided the main source of offense in the first game with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning after falling behind by one in the top half. The Lady Wolves scored four runs in that inning, and never looked back.
In the two games, Daniels was 3 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs at the plate. Bush pitched 12 innings, allowed one run and struck out 19 in the two games.
Wolfe said it will be important in the coming games for his team to take advantage of more of those opportunities early on.
“Timely hits are important,” he said, adding that this weekend takes a lot out of his players. “It’s a marathon.”