COLUMBUS — Buford’s offense picked the perfect time to wake up.
After it took eight innings to score against Greater Atlanta Christian on Friday, the Lady Wolves’ bats came to life in the fourth inning against Berrien County (34-5) on Saturday, scoring seven runs on six hits and propelling the No.2-ranked Wolves to an 8-1 victory in the championship game of the Class AA State Softball Finals in Columbus.
The championship is not only the first title for the softball program, but it is the first state championship for any female team in the school’s history.
"For me, it’s an amazing feeling to watch these seniors and the rest of the girls experience this," said Buford coach Tony Wolfe as he watched his team celebrate on the field. "I can’t describe how happy I am for our girls, our community and for our school. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment."
The Lady Wolves (33-6-1) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when senior Melissa Higginbotham led off the inning with a single and later scored on an Ashley Razey double.
That one run would prove to be plenty of run support for Buford’s starting pitcher Higginbotham, who retired nine of the first 11 batters she faced, and who did not surrender a hit until the top of the fourth inning.
A close game through the first three and a half innings, the Lady Wolves blew the game wide open in the bottom of the fourth.
After Jennifer Tucker reached on a fielder’s choice, Nicole Bell singled and Brandi Hellemn walked to load the bases for Higginbotham, who helped her own cause by lining a double to right-center field wall that scored three runs.
Three batters later, Razey (3-for-4 with three RBIs) hit her second double on the day that scored Higginbotham and rightfielder Chelsea Thomas, who was on first after drawing a walk. The Wolves would plate two more runs in the inning, with pinch runner Whitney Wolfe scoring on a Alysha Rudnik single, and Rudnik scoring on an Tucker single to right field.
"We swung the bats well today," Wolfe said of his team that scored eight runs on 12 hits. "We had the advantage of sitting and waiting while (Berrien) had to play a great GAC team. And as we found out last night, (GAC) can take a lot out of you."
After the seven-run fourth inning, Higginbotham went back to work in the pitcher’s circle surrendering one run on four hits during the final three innings.
"I looked at this game as just one more game," said Higginbotham of the pressure of pitching in a championship game. "I knew we’d be celebrating afterward, but I also knew that we had to take care of things."
Higginbotham credits her defense and team for Buford’s success.
"We have an amazing defense," she said. "I’ve never been around a closer bunch of girls. We always pick each other up and I knew that we were going to (win today)."
Aside from Razey, Buford was led by Higginbotham (3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored), Nicole Bell (1-for-3 with a run scored) and Tucker (1-for-3 and a run scored).
Berrien’s lone run came in the top of the sixth inning when Kellie Moore scored on a single hit by Ivy Lancaster.
Eagles Landing 6,
The Jefferson Lady Dragons (22-10) lost 6-1 to top-ranked Eagles Landing Christian Academy (34-7-1) on Saturday morning and finished in third place in the Class A State Softball Finals in Columbus.