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Improbable rally lifts Buford to fifth straight softball title

Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's Bailey Burnett, left, and Jordan Deep, right, kiss their championship trophy after defeating Pike County in the Class AA softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Buford defeated Pike County to win their 5th consecutive state championship.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford's Bailey Burnett, left, and Jordan Deep, right, kiss their championship trophy after defeating Pike County in the Class AA softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Buford defeated Pike County to win their 5th consecutive state championship.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Wesleyan short stop Katie Frerking (17) fields a grounder prior to making a throw to first base to throw out a Gordon Lee base runner during the class A state softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Gordon Lee defeated Wesleyan.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford catcher Noah Sudderth screams support to a teammate at bat during their final game against Pike County in the Class AA softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Buford defeated Pike County to win their 5th consecutive state championship.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford players celebrate their victory over Pike County in the Class AA softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Buford defeated Pike County to win their 5th consecutive state championship.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Buford softball team players including Lanier Paul (10), Taylor Nesmith (2) at center, and Alexis Baldy (3), celebrate their victory over Pike County to win the Class AA softball championships played Saturday in Columbus. Buford defeated Pike County to win their 5th consecutive state championship.

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COLUMBUS -- Buford's "Drive for Five" became the "Drive to Stay Alive" on Championship Saturday at the GHSA State Softball Tournament.

The Wolves came up with extra life after routing Blessed Trinity 9-1, and then twice rallying from five-run deficits to force an if-necessary game with an 11-10 win over Pike County.

And with seniors Kallie Case and Lexi Overstreet leading the way in the third game of the day, Buford wound up as sole survivors.

Case blasted two home runs among her three hits and Overstreet adding a homer, a double and four RBIs as the Wolves rolled to a 12-2 win and their state-record fifth consecutive Class AA state title at the South Commons Softball Complex.

"I thought this might be our finest hour if they could pull this off," a Gatorade-soaked Buford coach Tony Wolfe said after the No. 2 state-ranked Wolves (34-11) came through the elimination bracket for the first time in their unprecedented title run.

And they pulled it off with a power display of major proportions by belting 12 home runs over three games -- four of which came from Case and three more from Overstreet.

"We went through a stage where we'd been in a slump (before the state tournament)," said Overstreet, who had a home run in all three games on the day. "We weren't getting the big hits like we usually did. I'm glad we saved it all for the tournament."

After winning the morning game over Blessed Trinity behind two homers from Case and Kodi Ricketson and one each from Overstreet and Remington Hasty, the Wolves found themselves quickly in a hole against Pike County as the ninth-ranked Pirates (26-8) struck for five runs in the top of the first.

But they refused to give in.

"Coach Wolfe said that poise was going to win this game," Case said. "We just tried to stay poised."

That poise was tested when the Pike County lead eventually reached 8-3 before Buford began its charge in the fourth inning.

A two-run single by Tessa Daniels and RBIs on a bases-loaded walk to Overstreet and Jordan Deep's fielder's choice grounder pulled Buford to within 8-7 before Kodi Ricketson tied the game 8-all by completing the five-run outburst with an RBI single.

Daniels then gave the Wolves their first lead of the game with a solo homer in the fifth, a lead that reached 11-8 before Pike rallied for two runs in the sixth.

But freshman pitcher Bria Bush escaped further damage, and struck out the side in the seventh to force the deciding game.

And Case kept Buford's momentum going in that game by launching a 2-1 offering from Pike County starter Jamie Daniels over the fence in left-center for a leadoff, solo homer, giving the Wolves a quick 1-0 lead. Two innings later, the Alabama-bound shortstop struck again -- again on a 2-1 pitch -- for her second solo homer of the game and her fourth round-tripper of the day, to extend the Buford lead to 2-0.

It also opened the floodgates as the Wolves sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning, with five touching home.

Kodi Ricketson and Tessa Daniels each drove in a run with a single, while Madyson Wynegar added a two-run singe, and when the dust settled, Buford's lead had ballooned to 6-0.

Pike County pulled to within 6-2 on Ciara Miller's sacrifice fly and Marley Stowers' RBI ground out in the fourth, but it took Buford only a half-inning to get those runs that back.

It looked like they got one back when Case, who had walked and stole second, came around on an error on Remington Hasty's sacrifice bunt attempt, but the run was taken off the board when Hasty was called for interference on the throw. However, it became a moot point when Overstreet belted a monster two-run homer to straightaway center -- her fifth homer of the tournament -- to push the lead back to six runs at 8-2.

The Tennessee commit then added a two-run double in the fifth to make the score 12-2, and from there, Daniels took control by mowing down the next six Pirates hitters over the last two innings to seal the Wolves' record-setting title.

Wesleyan splits to finish runner-up in Class A

Wesleyan gave itself a chance to play for the Class A state championship by building a big lead against George Walton Academy and holding on for a 10-8 win in the elimination bracket final.

But the Wolves (24-13) couldn't quite solve Gordon Lee or pitcher Brenna Nation as the top-ranked Trojans (37-1) clinched their third straight title with a 6-1 victory.

In the opener, Wesleyan broke the game open with a five-run third inning, keyed by Holli Wilkins' two-run single, plus RBIs from Landyn Duley and Caitlin Crabill. Duley finished the game with two this and three RBIs, while CaraMia Tsirigos added an RBI single.

And in the title game, the Wolves, who had been limited to just two hits and struck out eight times against Nation in Friday's winner's bracket final, had better swings against the right-hander with six hits, including two from Tsirigos, and only six strikeouts.

But they could only manage on unearned run in the first, while Gordon Lee got an RBI double by Kendall Johnson and a two-run homer from Nation to jump out to an early 4-0 lead en route to the title.

"It was tough," Wesleyan coach Nichole Dixon said. "Even when we got runners on base, (Nation) is so solid."

The loss didn't diminish from the Wolves' run to the championship round, during which they posted three wins over state-ranked teams, including two over George Walton Academy. And with Crabill and Wilkins the only two seniors on the team, Dixon is optimistic of her team's chances to build of this experience.

"Yes (the two seniors) played huge roles on this team," Dixon said. "But (the underclassmen) continue to work hard, and they're already talking about what they want to do (to get back to Columbus) next year."