Aces high: Dominant pitching leads Buford into finals

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman<br> Buford's Austin Upshaw (16) beats Appling County catcher Matthew Shumans to home during the second game of a doubleheader Monday in the Class AA state semifinals.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Buford's Austin Upshaw (16) beats Appling County catcher Matthew Shumans to home during the second game of a doubleheader Monday in the Class AA state semifinals.

BUFORD -- Buford's baseball team will have a chance to do something it hasn't done since 1977.

Bring home a state title.

Behind two dominant pitching performances from starters Jake Burnette and Josh Heddinger, Buford punched its ticket to the Class AA finals with a sweep of Appling County on Tuesday night, topping the Pirates 3-1 and 6-1.

The sweep extended Buford's winning streak to 13 and puts the Wolves (29-3) in position to accomplish something it hasn't done since Jimmy Carter was president.

"It's an awesome feeling, especially for our seniors," Buford head coach Tony Wolfe said. "Just a few years ago they were 12 and 13 years old and it's great to see how they've gotten to this point."

Burnette and Heddinger, each headed to Georgia Tech, came up huge once again for the Wolves by delivering complete games.

Burnette, who missed the early part of the season because the basketball team's run to the state title game, struck out 11 in the opener, allowing one earned run on five hits and three walks (one intentional).

Heddinger followed with an even more dominant outing, surrendering one unearned run on four hits. He notched 10 strikeouts and walked just one, while hitting one batter.

"I couldn't be any happier for those two," Wolfe said. "They were the difference makers. They brought their 'A' game today and were impressive."

Burnette's mound opponent in Game 1 was Georgia commit Byron Buxton. Headed to Athens as an outfielder, Buxton showed his prowess on the mound as he held Buford scoreless in the first three innings.

He also put the Pirates (22-12) up 1-0 in the top of the third on a solo home run, a ball that just cleared the glove of center fielder Adam Hampton as he made a leaping attempt at the fence.

But Buxton's pitch count mounted as Buford maintained its patience at the plate in the first three innings. Wearing him down by the fourth inning, the Wolves opened the frame with three straight walks.

Buxton was pulled with the bases loaded and no outs, leaving a mess for reliever Jeremy Ammons. Burnette was the first hitter to face Ammons and he coaxed a walk, forcing in Mason Gentry to tie the game.

James Nix followed with a sacrifice fly to left to put the Wolves up 2-1 and the lead was extended to 3-1 when Hampton scored on a balk.

Buford finished the inning with three runs despite not getting a hit. Appling County outhit the Wolves 5-2 in Game 1, but Burnette's pitching proved to be more than enough.

Heddinger delivered another gem in Game 2 and the Buford bats were more supportive as the Wolves completed the sweep.

Buford plated two runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, while Heddinger needed 105 pitches for the complete game.

"The big thing was getting that first win with Jake (Burnette)," Buford catcher Jamie Ritchie said. "Josh (Heddinger) was unbelievable tonight. He was spotting it up great."

Heddinger also got it started on offense. His RBI single to left in the fourth plated the game's first run.

Tyler White, who finished the second game 2-for-4 with two doubles, opened the fifth with a double to right center and later scored on Troy Herterick's RBI single. Herterick had two hits and a walk in Game 2 with an RBI and a run.

The lead was pushed to 4-0 in the fifth when Ritchie, who had three hits and two walks in the two games, scored on a wild pitch.

Appling County scored in the bottom of the fifth on a throwing error, allowing a runner to advance all the way from first to trim the score to 4-1, but the Wolves put up two insurance runs in the sixth on an RBI double by White and another run on wild pitch with a runner at third.

Buford will host the championship series, starting this Saturday against the winner of the Pike County-Lovett series.

"I'm kind of in shock, to be honest with you," Ritchie said of making the finals. "It's kind of unreal right now.

"After losing to Pike in the playoffs last year, this year we know how we have to play. If we play our game, no one can beat us."

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