Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Buford's Adam Hampton (5) slides safely into home plate as Pierce County's Will Lowman gets hit in the face with the baseball while trying to get the out.
BUFORD -- Maybe it was Buford's motivation taken from the disappointing exit in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs a season ago.
Or perhaps it was the Wolves' nine-game winning streak entering Tuesday night's quarterfinal match up with Pierce County.
Or just plain old dumb luck brought on by the full moon that rose at the conclusion of Tuesday's games. Whatever the reason, Buford is playing some good baseball right now.
With a doubleheader sweep of Pierce County, 11-8 and 12-1, the Wolves extended that winning streak to 11 and earned a spot in the Class AA state semifinals, where they will host the winner of the Hart County-Appling County series next Monday.
"We've played our best baseball the last four weeks," Buford head coach Tony Wolfe said. "As a coach, I worry about the week off between rounds but we've been able to hold on to that momentum."
Game 1 starter Josh Heddinger took the win, but it wasn't easy, as the Georgie Tech signee needed 105 pitches to go 62/3 innings.
Eight runs were charged to the right-hander, but his defense wasn't supportive as two dropped balls in the outfield led to four unearned runs. He also walked two and hit four batters, but his six strikeouts and only six hits allowed kept the Bears (17-14) from putting together a huge inning.
Things were going smoothly in the opener with Buford up 1-0 off an RBI single from Jamie Ritchie in the first inning, when the Bears notched three runs in the fourth.
The first of those came on a bases loaded walk to Matthew Aldrige, while the other two came home on a dropped ball in left field with sacks full.
The error allowed two runners to cross home before Aldrige was thrown out at third. A lengthy discussion amongst the coaches and umpires ensued to determine if the second runner crossed home before the tag, which it was ultimately ruled he did.
Down 3-1, the Wolves responded with three runs in the bottom half, getting an RBI from Brian Malone while being hit with the bases loaded, a sacrifice fly RBI from James Nix, while plating another on an error during a pickoff attempt at first.
Nix added an RBI single in the fifth as Buford took control with four more runs. Brian Clark (2-for-4, two RBIs) added a two-run single, while Troy Herterick homered to center, a solo shot that snapped the branch from the tree it crashed into.
The Bears wouldn't go away in Game 1, pushing two unearned runs across in the fifth with Buford's second drop in the outfield. They also put a scare in the Wolves in the seventh by scoring three runs and leaving the bases loaded when Herterick recorded the final out for the save.
"We overcame not playing exceptionally well early," Wolfe said. "We had dropped fly balls, walked in a run and did things we haven't done all year. We were able to right the ship, got some runs and kept pressure on (Pierce County) that way. To battle a little adversity and come out on top is a good thing for us."
Buford concluded the sweep with a 12-1 rout in six innings in Game 2, getting a solid start from Sam Clay.
Clay struck out 11, allowing one earned run on five hits and five walks. The defense was also much better in the second game as the Wolves played errorless ball.
The offense also did its part, collecting 10 hits. Herterick hit his second home run of the day, a two-run shot in the sixth, and finished the second game 1-for-2 with a home run, walk, hit by pitch, two RBIs and three runs.
Heddinger continued his good work at the plate, going 1-for-3 with a walk, run and three RBIs, while Adam Hampton finished 2-for-2 with two walks and three RBIs.
Ritchie chipped in with a hit and two RBIs in the final game, while sophomore Mason Gentry was 2-for-2 with a double, two walks, and a long solo home run to center.
"We've been playing great right now," Heddinger said. "We just need to keep hitting the ball like we've been doing. We have so many that contribute with that."
If you are having problems viewing this slide show, click here