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Wolves, Stars still in hunt for state softball crown

COLUMBUS -- Gwinnett County's two small-school representatives at the state softball tournament came into this weekend's festivities with vastly different levels of experience on the biggest stage.

Buford is seeking its third straight Class AA state championship, while Providence Christian is making its first appearance at the South Commons Softball Complex in eight years.

Both teams made their experience work to their advantage Friday to move on to championship Saturday today.

The Wolves have two chances for the three-peat after their 6-0 victory over Cook, keyed by another strong game in the circle and at the plate from Karly Fullem.

Meanwhile, Providence's run through the elimination bracket in Class A continues at least one more game after victories of 2-0 over Bryan County, 1-0 over Bacon County and 2-1 over Savannah Christian on Friday.

The Stars (27-9) play Gordon Lee this morning at 9. The winner advances to play Eagle's Landing Christian in need of two victories to dethrone the three-time defending champs.

"It's definitely been our goal since Day 1 to return to Columbus," said Providence coach Scotty Strong, whose team is here for the first time since finishing as state runner-up in 2001. "Today things just worked out for us."

What really worked out for the Stars on Friday was an outstanding day from pitcher Kylie Kleinschmidt and some clutch hitting when it was really needed.

Through 21 innings and three games, Kleinschmidt allowed just four hits, one unearned run and struck out 39.

The gem was her no-hitter against Bacon County in which she set down 21 straight hitters after giving up a lead-off walk.

"I cannot say enough about Kylie," Strong said of Kleinschmidt, who also went a combined 4-for-9 with an RBI at the plate. "That was one of the best three-game, one-day performances I've ever seen. She just had a great day."

So did Alexis Baldy. She also had four hits on the day with two RBIs, including the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the seventh against Savannah Christian, which had put Providence in the elimination bracket with a 2-0 win Thursday.

Fullem was just as big a key for Buford (24-4) in its win over Cook, tossing a three-hit shutout with six strikeouts and going 3-for-3 with an RBI at the plate.

"Karly's played so well, especially the last two or three weeks," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "We were a little worried about her. She got hit in the ribs (Thursday) and had a bruised rib. She fouled a ball off her knee, so she had a bruised knee. She's just unbelievably tough and gutted it out."

The right-hander and the rest of the Wolves had to gut out a little bad luck nursing a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth with a runner on first and two outs.

Breonah Rockmore hit a grounder just to the right of second base that Whitney Wolfe had a bead on.

But the ball took a wicked hop and the second baseman could only knock it down, and the runners moved up to second and third after a wild pitch.

"I guess I just knew my team was behind me and that even though we had runners on, we'd get out of it," Fullem said of coping with the bad break.

Fullem got out of the jam by striking out Dani Edmondson to keep Buford in front 2-0.

The Wolves then put the game away in the bottom of the inning.

After one out, Alysha Rudnik started a string of five straight hits -- three of which were doubles -- including RBIs by Fullem and Samantha Ramey and a two-run double by Whitney Wolfe, which scored four runs to push the lead to 6-0. Rudnik finished the night 2-for-3 as the Wolves pounded out nine hits, including doubles by Rudnik, Fullem, Ramey and Wolfe.