COLUMBUS - Throughout its current three-year run of success at the Class AA state softball tournament, Buford faced something it had never faced Saturday.
An elimination game.
That's the situation a 2-0 loss to Rockmart left the Wolves in at the South Commons Softball Complex.
However, veterans of the team's two previous state championships made sure the team's first loss in Columbus in three years would be its only one.
Alysha Rudnik went 3-for-3 with a home run, double and three RBIs and Karly Fullem capped off her MVP-like performance for the tournament by throwing five shutout innings and adding a hit and two RBIs at the plate as Buford bombed Rockmart 9-0 to wrap up its third straight title.
"We'd never lost in this run we've been on down here," a Gatorade-soaked Buford coach Tony Wolfe said afterward. "(After losing) the first game, how were we going to react? And how were we going to respond? It hasn't come easy, but we hadn't had to deal with coming back after a loss."
It didn't take Wolfe long to get his answer.
Held in check with the rest of her teammates in the first game, Rudnik made sure that wouldn't happen again in Game 2.
"I think we were a little shocked after we lost the first game," Rudnik said. "But we knew we could win, and we weren't about to lose the second game.
"I just knew we needed something so that we could all get energized. ... I was just trying to hit the ball hard."
The Georgia Tech-bound senior catcher delivered with two outs in the top of the first by lining Katie Kiser's 1-2 pitch over the fence in left field for a solo homer to put Buford (25-5) up 1-0.
That turned out to be all Fullem (13-2) would need, as the junior right-hander shut down Rockmart (32-10) on just two hits and struck out nine in five innings of work.
However, the Wolves left nothing to chance by breaking things open in the fourth.
A leadoff double by Rudnik and a bunt single by Lexi Overstreet brought Fullem to the plate, and as she has throughout the tournament, she came up big, lining a hit down the left-field line to bring home both runners and stretch Buford's lead to 3-0.
Whitney Wolfe added a sacrifice fly later in the inning and the Wolves held a 4-0 lead and cruised home.
"It definitely felt a lot better," Fullem said of the insurance runs. "It gave me a lot more comfort (to have the bigger lead)."
Buford then applied the knockout blow with five more runs in the fifth, keyed by back-to-back two-run singles from Rudnik and Overstreet, who combined to go 6-for-6 with five RBIs for the game.
The Wolves' first chance to take the title was a staredown led by Kiser and Melissa Dickie, who matched each other pretty much pitch for pitch.
Buford eventually blinked first in the bottom of the sixth.
After Harley Bradford gave the Yellow Jackets their first hit of the game by legging out a dribbler down the third-base line, Janel Echols drew a one-out walk and an error on an infield grounder loaded the bases.
Brandi Hughes then sent a two-run single through a drawn-in infield and Rockmart had a 2-0 lead.
That was all Kiser needed. The right-hander gave up just two hits - both to Chelsie Thomas - and struck out seven, including the final three in the top of the seventh to give Rockmart the win and force a second game.
Dickie (9-2) took the tough-luck loss despite giving up just two hits and one earned run while striking out seven in six innings.
Gordon Lee 15, Providence 1
The Stars' (27-10) Cinderella run through the elimination bracket came to an end early Saturday.
After falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first, Providence tried to answer as Jessie Kowalewicz, who had singled, scored on the back end of a double steal attempt with Cory Rodgers, who had also singled, to cut the Gordon Lee lead to 3-1.
But that was as close as the Stars would get.
"Give Gordon Lee all the credit," Providence coach Scotty Strong said. "They were ready to play. At times, we gave them our best. At times, we didn't play our best, and you've got to play your best every game (in the state tournament). But I'm so proud of these girls."