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Buford sweeps back into semis

ZEBULON - Chase Burnette hit two of Buford's four home runs, Justin Curry and Mark Swanson pitched Game 1 and Game 2 victories and the Wolves swept Pike County in the Class AA state baseball playoffs on Tuesday.

Visiting Buford won Game 1 by a 5-3 margin and took Game 2 with a decisive 9-0 victory to advance to the Final Four of the state playoffs for the second straight year. Buford will play Monday against Lovett or Metter, who split their quarterfinal doubleheader.

The Region 8-AA champions have won 11 of their last 12 games and have outscored their opponents 78-19 in seven playoff games.

"I thought we played solid all the way around," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "We had big hits, great efforts by both guys on the mound and our defense was sound. It was just a really good effort on the road."

Buford is 13-4 away from home this season.

The Wolves got on the board early in Game 2. Josh Higginbotham doubled and Burnette brought him home with a two-run home run in the first. It was Burnette's eighth homer of the season and second on the day. The next batter, Cory Allen, hit a solo homer and the Wolves were up 3-0. Allen's homer was the senior's team-leading ninth of the season.

"Cory is the destroyer sitting behind (Burnette)," Wolfe said.

Two innings later, Buford had another rally. Higginbotham walked and Burnette singled. Allen followed with a two-run double and would later score on a John Macolino sacrifice fly to give Buford a 6-0 lead.

The lead was enough for Swanson (9-2), who went all seven innings, allowing five hits and striking out four. Swanson's biggest stat of the game was his three pick-offs at first base.

"Swanson was masterful once again," Wolfe said. "He's always been a guy that takes pride in his defense and fielding. He's got a great pick-off move and I think that totally neutralized them."

Buford added a run in the fourth and two in the sixth for its 9-0 victory, the most runs the Pirates have allowed all year. The shutout is just the fourth of the season for the Wolves and the second all year for Pike County.

The Pirates had not been shut out since the season opener against nationally ranked Starr's Mill when the Panthers won 3-0. Pike County's back-to-back losses were the first for the Region 4-AA champs all season.

In Game 1, Curry (8-1) showed no ill effects of experiencing his first high school loss in the previous round against Calhoun. Curry pitched a great game, and only two pitches denied the senior from a shutout and no-hitter.

Burnette hit a two-out solo homer to center field in the first give Buford a 1-0 lead.

Matt Carter hit a solo home run in the second to tie the game for Pike County, but Buford came back in the third to take the lead for good.

Brandon McEachern led off the inning with a solo home run to center field. Jeff Tatum followed with a walk, Swanson singled and Higginbotham reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Burnette hit a sac fly to right field to score Tatum and Allen followed with a double to drive in Swanson for a 4-1 Buford lead.

After Curry gave up the homer in the second, the North Carolina-bound football player retired the next nine batters in order. It wasn't until the sixth inning that Curry got in trouble. The 6-4, 230-pounder gave up a walk and two batters later a two-run homer by Blake Parrott put the Pirates back in the game 4-3. Curry settled down after the homer to record a strikeout to get out of the inning.

"I just hung a curve ball and he got a hold of it," Curry said. "I have to give a lot of the praise to the defense. They made plays all day."

Curry finished with nine strikeouts in seven innings of work, allowing three runs on just two hits.

"He showed remarkable poise and came after hitters all day," Wolfe said. "He was electric all game."

Buford added its fifth run of the game in the seventh when Tatum got a two-out single. Tatum then stole second and Swanson drove in the senior with a double.

"I like our offense," Wolfe said. "I think we are good up and down."