Buford appears to be on the fast track toward its seventh consecutive softball state championship.
The top-ranked Lady Wolves erupted for 10 runs in the second inning of the Region 7-AAA championship game and dispatched upstart East Hall with a 15-0 victory in just three innings Thursday at Lanier Point Softball Complex in Gainesville.
Senior Morgan Walters sparked the scoring for Buford (29-1) in the top of the second with the first of her two home runs — a leadoff solo shot — and added a three-run blast in the third inning to finish with four RBIs. In the circle, junior pitcher Bria Bush surrendered just one hit and struck out three, moving to 12-1 on the season courtesy of her 12th complete game and eighth shutout.
Buford has won region championships in five of the last six seasons, including the Region 7-AAA title in 2012.
“They’re going to play pretty hard and be pretty focused pretty much every time out, but especially when it gets tournament time,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said of his players. “They’ve got a lot of pride in their program and they want to continue to see it do well. We thought we’d play well tonight and we actually did.”
Despite the loss, the Lady Vikings weren’t hanging their heads, and with good reason.
East Hall will continue its historic season next week when the program makes its first appearance in the state playoffs.
“We feel great,” East Hall coach Jenny Crow said. “We set our goal, and that was to have home field advantage being in the top two coming out of this tournament, and we met our goal.”
The Lady Vikings secured the No. 2 seed with a 2-1 victory over Banks County earlier in the afternoon, but the championship game quickly got away from them.
Already trailing 1-0 on Walters’ home run, East Hall fell behind 3-0 on an error and a wild pitch. Niki Cook then boosted Buford’s lead to 5-0 with a two-run double to left-center field.
Remington Hasty followed with an RBI single and Walters pushed across another run on an attempted fielder’s choice, before Noah Sudderth capped the second-inning scoring with a three-run homer over the left field fence.
Tessa Daniels drove in the Wolves’ 11th run in the top of the third on a base hit and Alexus Murray later invoked the mercy rule with an RBI single of her own. Sandwiched in between those two hits was Walters’ three-run shot to right field.
“She had a big night and she had a really big tournament,” Wolfe said of Walters. “It was her first two home runs in the tournament, but I think Tuesday night she had three doubles in one game. She hit the ball hard, she just didn’t get it up quite as much.
“She’s a pretty amazing hitter. She hit one ball to left and one to center, so she’s not always trying to pull.”
Both Buford and East Hall are set to open the Class AAA state playoffs in a best-of-three series at their home fields next Wednesday. The Lady Wolves will play the No. 4 seed from Region 5-AAA, while the Lady Vikings will face the No. 3 seed from Region 5.
Banks County also qualified for the state tournament as the No. 3 seed, while Fannin County got in as the fourth seed.
“(Winning) the region is nice, but it also reminds us that it doesn’t guarantee anything,” Wolfe said. “You’ve still got to show up and play these next three weeks and hopefully things go our way.”