CARTERSVILLE — For opponents, Buford’s pitching results in a whirlwind of whiffs, scuffed dirt and long walks back to the dugout.
For the top-ranked Wolves, it’s been business as usual.
Behind the strong arms of Keyton Gibson and Justin Glover, Buford swept fifth-ranked Cartersville Tuesday evening to reach the Class AAAA state championship series against Whitewater.
The Wolves (31-2) will travel to Fayetteville for a Saturday doubleheader. Game 3, if necessary, will be played Monday at Whitewater High School.
Buford took advantage of several Cartersville miscues while racking up 10 hits to shut out the Hurricanes 10-0 in five innings and take Game 1, before Gibson struck out 11 batters in a 10-3 victory in Game 2 to earn Buford’s first state finals appearance since 2011.
To some players, the win felt like long-awaited redemption. Buford fell to Cartersville in three games in last year’s Class AAA semifinal at Gerald McQuaig Field in Buford, before both teams moved up a classification.
“For these boys to come out here in a big atmosphere, where the Cartersville fans are great, and perform the way that they did (was huge),” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “I was really pleased to see that.”
GAME 2: BUFORD 10, CARTERSVILLE 3: Ian Jenkins’ arcing three-run double to left-center field in the bottom of the fourth inning broke open a 9-3 lead for Buford and ensured his team’s berth in the state title series after sloppy defense put that goal in doubt.
The Hurricanes had cut the Wolves’ lead to three in the top of the frame when Elliott Berrey and Trenton Frazier ran home, beating Joey Bart at home plate after Bart and Gibson traded off-kilter throws while trying to tag out both Canes.
But with two outs, Jenkins delivered a long shot that smacked off the left-field wall to score Griffin Joliff, Nick Wilhite and Bart, who all singled to reach base.
The Wolves combined for 15 hits in their series-clinching win, with brothers Nick (3 for 3, RBI) and Austin Wilhite (4 for 4, two doubles, RBI) combining for half of those chances.
“We got hits when it mattered,” said Nick Wilhite, who delivered a two-out single in the first to score Austin for Buford’s first run of the evening. “It was probably the most important game of the season, except for the final, now.”
In the meantime, Gibson (5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 1 ER), a senior, was in top form from the mound. By the time he ended the third inning, his breaking ball had already struck out six batters swinging.
He bounced back from the fielding miscue with Bart to strike out at least one batter in each inning until he was pulled two batters into the top of the sixth.
“What we needed to do was keep up our momentum,” said infielder Dillon Lancaster (2 for 3, two doubles, 2 RBI).
“Everyone just came together and said ‘We’ve all got to do our part,’ and that’s what pulled us through it.”
Lancaster’s 2-run double off the left field wall scored Glover and Jolliff in the bottom of the third to put Buford up 6-0 after he and Austin Wilhite both drove runners home in the second.
Gibson finished with two perfect innings, while Cartersville pitcher Anthony Seigler (9 H, 9 ER, 2 K, 3 BB) was ousted after four innings of work.
Nick Wilhite, a Georgia Tech commit, had the highlight of the evening when he robbed Lane Wilson of a certain double in left field with a leaping grab to end the top of the second.
“I knew I had to go a long way to get up and get it,” he said. “I didn’t know the park very well, so I had to rely on what my teammates were telling me. I couldn’t get scared, so I had to go catch it.”
The last time Buford made the state title series, the Wolves defeated Pike County in Class AA action.
“We’ve got a rare opportunity now,” said Wolfe. “We have to turn our attention to Whitewater and prepare the best we can for them.”
GAME 1: BUFORD 10, CARTERSVILLE 0: A shaky Cartersville pitching staff hit more Buford batters (six) than the Canes offense earned hits (four) as the Wolves earned a mercy rule win in five innings.
Buford’s Justin Glover (5 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 6 K) threw a masterful complete game to pace the Wolves.
Buford hasn’t lost since March 24.
“Glover (a Georgia commit) came up like a champion,” said Wolfe, who was visibly pleased with his junior southpaw.
“The depth our pitching staff has shown over the course of the season and the playoffs just says so much about us.”
By the time Glover completed three innings of no-hit baseball, his team was up 8-0 and cruising toward a series-opening win.
Bart loaded the bases on his high single to right field before Cartersville ace Elliott Anderson (3 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) made his first out.
Brandon Marsh (2-for-3, 2 singles) and Austin Wilhite (1-for-2) both scored thanks to Brandon Marsh’s chopper down the line.
The scoreline could have been worse for Cartersville, which managed two back-to-back double plays with two outs to stop the bleeding in the third and fourth innings.
Micah Smith and Jack Mayo came in for Anderson in relief, but the pitching staff combined to allow five walks and eight hits, while hitting six Buford batters.
Bart (2-for-2, 2 singles) smacked a two-run single to bring home Marsh and Lancaster for a 6-0 lead after both runners were hit by Anderson in the top of the fourth.
“I was really pleased we were able to capitalize on the mistakes,” said Wolfe. “The kids are so determined to establish themselves, I can’t say enough about their resiliency, their poise.”
Austin Wilhite and Bart both finished with two RBIs. The Wolves put together their 10 runs on eight hits.