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Gustafson's grand slam powers GAC past Buford

Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School short stop Sierre Lawrence (22) steals third base as Buford third baseman Kallie Case catches the late throw during the first inning of a softball game played Tuesday in Norcross.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School short stop Sierre Lawrence (22) steals third base as Buford third baseman Kallie Case catches the late throw during the first inning of a softball game played Tuesday in Norcross.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School pitcher Natalie deLatour (14) pitches during the fourth inning against Buford during a game Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School players Brianna Stewart (6), Jordan Smalls (3), Mary Johnson (20) and Sierre Lawrence (22) celebrate teammate Krista Gustafson's 4-run home run during the fifth inning against Buford Tuesday. Gustafson's home run set the score at 5 to 0.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian School catcher Krista Gustafson (44) hits a grand slam home run during the fifth inning against Buford during a softball game Tuesday. Gustafoson's home run set score at 5 to 0.

NORCROSS -- Sierra Lawrence did what she usually does and was the catalyst for Greater Atlanta Christian's scant 1-0 lead over rival Buford on Tuesday evening.

But it was fellow senior Krista Gustafson who blew the game open.

Gustafson was mobbed at home plate after her two-out grand slam in the fifth inning buried the four-time defending state champion Wolves for a 5-0 victory.

"Their pitcher (Natalie deLatour) was awesome all night and Sierra is a handful," Buford head coach Tony Wolfe said. "Then they got the one big hit. We about wiggled out of the inning and they came up with the big blow.

"But they outplayed us all day and they deserved to win."

The game sped along with sharp pitching and solid defense through four innings. Lawrence was the only runner to make it past second and her run in the first inning was the sum total of scoring.

"Buford sets the standard in softball around here and we just love being able to compete with them," GAC head coach Judy Tenney said.

"I thought the girls really got up for it tonight. They were passionate about the game, but they did a good job of keeping their focus."

Jordan Smalls, one of four sophomores starting for the Spartans (16-3), jerked a well-hit ball to shortstop that skipped between Kallie Case's feet to start the fifth inning. Mary Johnson, also a sophomore, hit it right back to Case on the next pitch. Case knocked this one down, but her throw to second was off the mark.

Lawrence was walked on four careful pitches to load the bases.

Buford freshman pitcher Tessa Daniels struck out Celine Talley and got deLatour to pop out, giving the Wolves (13-7) a chance to escape major damage.

Gustafson had other ideas.

"When Krista came up, I just turned around to my coach and said, 'She's got this. We're good, we're going to score right here,'" Lawrence said. Not that she was predicting a grand slam.

"No, but I sensed a hit," Lawrence said. "I knew we'd go up right there and shut them down."

Gustafson got ahead of Daniels in the count, 2-1, and Buford's hope of a comeback went sailing out of the park with her towering blast that cleared the bases.

"I was just thinking, 'I'm a senior, I have to do my job. Just give me my pitch, let me take this,'" Gustafson said. "I've been hitting home runs since last weekend. I'm on a home-run role, so I knew I could do it.

"The first two at-bats, I struggled with finding my pitch. So I was just ready for it. It was right there, outside corner and I took it to right center."

Gustafson, who transferred from Parkview last year, relished the opportunity to step up and make a difference in the game. Especially against the No. 8 Wolves, the gold standard in Class AA for the last four straight years.

"It's always a good feeling," she said. "Because we haven't beaten Buford since I got here. It was just nice to come in and be that senior leader that the girls need.

"Sierra does her job on the field and does her job at-bat, so it's nice to have somebody step up and take that role."

Lawrence led off the game with a single and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. She was brought home on a base knock to left field by deLatour and GAC made that 1-0 margin stand up until Gustafson played hero.

"When we had the bases loaded, we had two chances before Krista hit the grand slam and Krista was just trying to pick up her teammates," Tenney said. "We had the opportunity to do something before that -- and we should have.

"We have to play small ball and every once in a while we'll get an opportunity like that to jack one. But for the most part, we have to take whatever they give us. We have to be opportunistic."