BUFORD — Consecutive games in back-to-back days between North Hall and Buford did little to distinguish the frontrunner for the remainder of the regular season.
On Wednesday, Jake Higginbotham pitched three nearly perfect innings of relief to earn the win for the Wolves (10-2, 7-1 Region 7-AAA) as they broke the game open with four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to earn a 7-3 win over the Trojans at Gerald McQuaig Field in Buford.
The win puts the two schools even in the season series after North Hall won Tuesday’s matchup 4-1 in Gainesville.
“It was a big deal for us to beat North Hall,” said Higginbotham, who only allowed one batter to reach base. “We needed to bounce back and show the rest of the region we’re for real”.
North Hall and Buford now both sit at 7-1 in region play with a final meeting between the two on April 19 in Gainesville.
“I didn’t feel like we put our best foot forward in the first game against North Hall,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “After this win, I’m feeling better about where we stand.
“We knew we had to come our here tonight and match North Hall’s confidence and swagger.”
Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Buford plated four runs on only two hits. North Hall committed four throwing errors in the infield in the sixth, including a bases-loaded miscue from second base after a Joey Bart grounder and high throw home to the plate that brought in the first two runs of the evening.
Then on a pick off attempt, a low throw in the dirt to second base scored another Buford runner from third base.
Josh Bryan drove home the final run of the sixth inning for the Wolves on a sacrifice fly to left field.
The only two hits of the big inning for Buford were a lead-off single from Hunter Puckett, then a double by Austin Upshaw to put a pair of runners in scoring position with a 6-3 lead and no outs.
After Puckett reached to start the inning with a single, Buford tried to build a rally with bunts, but had difficulties deadening the ball before two strikes in the count.
Ryan Bramlett was first for the Wolves to reach, doing so on a bunt when the attempted throw to force out the lead runner at second base was high and off the bag. Then with two on, a force attempt at third base failed when North Hall’s infielder failed to touch the bag.
“We didn’t execute our bunts perfectly but the kids played hard and managed to get the runs across,” Wolfe said.
Higginbotham, a sophomore, was hard to touch in relief for Buford. He struck out seven batters over three innings, including four of the first five he faced. A walk by Stephen Murray was the lone Trojans at-bat to reach base during his time on the mound.
“Jake’s having an outstanding season for us, averaging about two strikeouts an inning,” Wolfe said. “He’s really throwing the ball with confidence.”
North Hall scored in separate innings with of a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of starting pitcher Colton Duttweiler. Griffin Olson added an RBI single in the third inning. Zach Mize had an extra base hit with one out in the first inning for North Hall.
Trailing 1-0, Buford jumped back in front 2-1 in the bottom of the first inning with singles from Patrick Burnette, Jake Mayo and an RBI double from Russell Klein.
Buford next visits West Hall. North Hall visits White County on Friday in Cleveland.