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Higginbotham fans 14 in Buford's 7-0 win over White Co.
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Buford pitcher Jake Higginbotham delivers a pitch against White County in the first inning on Wednesday in Cleveland. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

CLEVELAND — Even with the tremendous zip on the fastball for Buford lefty Jake Higginbotham, it was the knee-buckling curveball that got him out of trouble and preserved a 7-0 win against White County on Wednesday in Cleveland.

Higginbotham, a junior, recorded a season-high 14 strikeouts, twice pitched around giving up a leadoff extra-base hit and didn’t allow a walk for top-ranked Buford (15-0, 11-0 Region 7-AAA). The Clemson commit got all the run support he needed with five runs as the Wolves batted around in the top of the first inning.

“I felt like Jake threw exceptionally well today,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “He had command of both pitches and kept his pitch count low.”

With the win, Buford now holds a three-game cushion for the top spot in the region. White County (13-3, 8-3) visits Buford at 5:55 p.m. Friday. The third and final meeting between the two clubs will be April 23 in Cleveland.

Wolfe, however, warns his program about getting any sense of complacency, especially in a region with programs as talented as the Warriors, North Hall, Dawson County and West Hall.

“Our region will remain a battle all the way through to the very end,” Buford’s coach said. “A two-game losing streak can happen.”

Higginbotham made it through the Warriors’ order the first time without allowing a hit.

The Wolves’ hard-throwing starter allowed a leadoff double to Spencer Adams to open the home half of the fourth inning, then a double to Tray Gearin to open the fifth.

After Gearin’s double, Higginbotham recorded three straight strikeouts to get out of the inning and preserve the shutout in White County’s final serious threat at the plate.

“I felt like I threw well today,” Higginbotham said. “The curve was really my out pitch today.”

Three Buford hitters came to the plate in the first inning with the bases loaded and strung together four singles in the top half of the order before the first out was made. Hunter Puckett capped the inning with two runs on a two-strike single up the middle.

Griffin Jolliff walked to score a run, while Austin Upshaw came through with a two-run single before the first out was recorded.

With brothers Austin Wilhite and Nick Wilhite on base to start the inning, Joey Bart loaded the bases with a bloop single to shallow right field.

Buford finished the game with 13 hits. Nick Wilhite had an RBI double in the fourth inning, while Kayden Berrett had an RBI single up the middle in the sixth inning.

With a five-run cushion in hand, Higginbotham continued to battle on the hill. In the second, he retired the first out of White County’s Stetson Gearin with a sharp line out to shortstop on a 3-0 count.

With one out in the second, White County’s Peyton Applewhite was its first hitter to reach base after he struck out but got to first base when the ball went to the backstop.

White County starter Joel Pritchett had its only other single of the game with a two-out hit in the third.

“White County hit a couple balls to the fence tonight on Jake, but he stayed in there and kept his poise and threw hard,” Wolfe said.

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