BUFORD — If the first two games of region play are any indication of what’s to come from the Buford Wolves, the rest of Region 7-AAA better look out.
Just one day after a 19-run win over East Hall in the region opener, the top-ranked Wolves closed out the home-and-home two-game series with a commanding 12-2 win in five innings on Wednesday night, battling cold temperatures and high-powered winds in the process.
“We’re happy with the first couple times out,” Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. “We’ve got four games in four days this week, after only playing two in the first three weeks of the year. It is good to get them out there and get some games under our belt.”
Lead-off batter Austin Wilhite was a perfect 3 for 3 with two runs scored to lead Buford at the plate. Georgia Tech signee Joey Bart and center fielder Patrick Burnette each added a pair of hits for the Wolves, who finished the night with nine total hits. Burnette also finished with a game-high three runs batted in.
On the hill, right-hander Kevin Coulter earned the win after allowing one run on four hits in four innings of work.
He struck out seven East Hall batters, all coming in a span of 10 at-bats between the first and third innings.
“I didn’t think (Coulter) was as sharp today as he was a week ago at (Greater Atlanta Christian),” Wolfe said. “The command of his fastball was getting away from him a little today. That’s early season, cold weather; there are a lot of factors that go into it.”
Wind played a major factor throughout the game. Players’ hats were seen flying off their head due to the windy conditions, and fly balls were a task to catch as the wind carried the ball into various directions.
It even gave the catchers some issues after the ball was released from the pitchers’ hands.
“The ball was moving a lot, especially catching behind the plate,” Bart said, regarding the wind. “I think we hit the ball a little better than I thought we were going to do tonight.”
Jacob Cash led East Hall (2-4) with two hits and a run scored, while Caleb Holtzclaw also scored a run. Cole Smith was 2 for 3 with a double and a single for the Vikings.
With so little games under their belts so far this season, Wolfe said he will be using the four games this week — the two already against East Hall and tonight’s game against Providence Christian along with Friday’s game against Banks County — as a measuring stick for his Wolves team.
It’s a deep team with a lot of talent, and players are battling among themselves for playing time.
In Tuesday night’s win over the Vikings, Wolfe used all 21 players, with the majority of his younger players accounting for an 11-run seventh inning.
While Wolfe played considerably less players on Wednesday night, citing the cold weather and risk of injuries as a major factor, it’s safe to say the Wolves have plenty of options to go to this season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on the bench who can hit,” Bart said. “The ceiling is really high. I’m excited.”
The Wolves showed their hitting prowess and ability to work the bases early on Wednesday night. After East Hall took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Cash scored on a single from Jack Hagwood, Buford used three hits and took advantage of three walks to score seven runs in the bottom half of the inning.
From there, the Wolves coasted by adding another run in the third inning and two more in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively.
“I just think our guys love to compete,” Wolfe said. “They enjoy being together and they enjoy playing the game.”
Buford’s first seven batters of the game all reached base and scored in the bottom of the first inning, with the final runs coming off Burnette’s two-run double into center field. The ball fell in front of the East Hall fielder after the wind caught it high in the air.
After being held scoreless in the second inning, the Wolves struck for a run in the third inning when Nick Wilhite reached base on a fielder’s choice before stealing second base and advancing to third on a wild pitch. He then scored on a passed ball.
Jake Mayo and Burnette both scored runs in the bottom of the fourth inning for Buford, pushing the score to 10-1. East Hall scored a run in the top of the fifth inning when Holtzclaw scored on a Ronnie Peebles single.
Buford closed out the game in the fifth inning when Austin Wilhite reached on a single and eventually scored on a base hit from Bart, who then scored on a throwing error from East Hall.
East Hall finished the night with six errors, four that led to Buford runs.
Buford visits Providence Christian tonight in non-region action, while East Hall visits Fannin County in region play on Friday night.