COLUMBUS -- Top-ranked Buford used two dramatically different ways to advance in the winner's bracket of the Class AA state softball tournament Thursday at the South Commons Softball Complex.
The three-time defending state champion Wolves flexed their muscles with solo home runs from Melissa Dickie, Lexi Overstreet and Kodi Ricketson in opening with a 4-1 win over Jeff Davis.
In their second game of the day, it was patience, small ball and the pitching of Karly Fullem that paced the way for a 6-1 win over No. 2 Union County.
"I think our kids executed some of the small parts of the game really well (Thursday) night," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "We were able to string enough together to give ourselves a little (working) margin."
The Wolves will see a familiar foe in today's 5 p.m. winner's bracket game.
Greater Atlanta Christian posted wins of 9-0 over Dodge County and 2-1 over North Oconee to set up a rematch of the 2007 winner's bracket final in which then-underdog Buford beat top-ranked GAC en route to the first of its three straight titles to date.
Now, the roles are reversed, with the Spartans playing the role of upstart to the heavily-favored Wolves.
"When GAC plays Buford, there are no secrets," GAC coach Judy Tenney said. "Everybody knows what everybody else is going to do. It's just coming out and executing."
Both teams executed well on Thursday.
Buford (30-4) used the early power surge, plus a complete-game pitching effort from Dickie (14-3), who gave up just one earned run and three hits and struck out eight in seven innings, to finish off Jeff Davis in the opener.
In the nightcap against Union County, the Wolves had to fight from behind after Kaitlyn Seabolt launched a leadoff homer off Karly Fullem to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
But after giving up a one-out single to Whitney Kelley, Fullem (14-1) settled down and held Union County (29-3-1) hitless over the remaining 62/3 innings, retiring 21 of the final 23 hitters she faced with 11 strikeouts.
And after struggling the first time through the order against Union County pitcher Angie Hughes, the Wolves began to peck away the second time through.
With a runner on first and two outs in the second, Rebekah Rude legged out an infield single to keep the inning alive for the top of the order.
Chelsie Thomas and Kallie Case then delivered clutch two-out, RBI singles to vault Buford into a 2-1 lead.
After Ricketson's bases-loaded walk in the fourth made it 3-1, Overstreet broke the game open with her second homer of the day, a two-run blast in the sixth that made the score 5-1.
Case then added another RBI single in the seventh for the final margin.
GAC (25-14) used a similar formula to win its games Thursday.
The Spartans got a huge game from Sierra Lawrence, who went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, plus a pair of RBIs each from Taylor Endres and Natalie deLatour in the opener against Dodge County, which was plenty of support for Sarah Armstrong, who threw a five-hit shutout with three strikeouts over five innings and went 2-for-3 at the plate. Brianna Stewart also went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
The Spartans got both their runs in Game 2 in the first inning on Endres' two-run double, and rode the arm of Armstrong the rest of the way.
The senior right-hander scattered seven hits and gave up just one run to earn the complete game victory, and gave the Spartans another shot at Region 6-AA rival Buford.
Kylie Kleinschmidt threw a pair of complete-game shutouts and got just enough offensive support as the Stars (26-11-2) advance to today's winner's bracket semifinal with wins of 5-0 over Irwin County and 1-0 over Strong Rock Christian on Thursday.
Kleinschmidt gave up just five hits and struck out 26 in 14 innings on the day, but her most clutch pitching came with Providence clinging to a 1-0 lead in the seventh against Strong Rock.
Ansley Hughes led off the inning with a double to represent the potential tying run, but Kleinschmidt struck out the next three batters in succession to preserve the victory, which came after third-innings walks to Bethany Smith and Anna Stahl, a sacrifice bunt by Katie Beals and a passed ball.
In the opener against Irwin County, Jessie Kowalewicz slammed a three-run homer, while Lauren Eggert went 2-for-2 with an RBI to lead the Providence offense.
The Stars' next task won't be easy as four-time defending state runner-up and current No. 1 Gordon Lee (34-0) stands in their way.
"We wanted to be in this position," Providence coach Scotty Strong said. "We know their record. We know their drive to want to get to the finals. We just want our chance, and I'm so proud of our girls."