BUFORD -- After losing for only the third time all season on Wednesday, Class AAA's top-ranked softball team was suddenly staring at elimination in the second round of the state tournament.
But Buford turned to a quartet of sophomores and a junior to lead the way in an impressive 9-1 five-inning victory over Franklin County to take the best-of-three series 2-1.
Sophomores Bria Bush, Remington Hasty, Jordan Deep and Tessa Daniels teamed with junior Niki Cook to provide the spark that carried Buford back to Columbus where the Wolves will be shooting for a sixth straight state title.
"I thought our kids really had a good mindset today and our confidence was there from the very first inning," Buford head coach Tony Wolfe said. "And even though we gave up that first-inning run, I think we came to the ballpark expecting to score more than one run. I'm just really proud of the way they responded after a long, tough day yesterday. We came out like champions today."
Bush did her damage in the circle by limiting Franklin County to one run on one hit while striking out eight and didn't walk a batter to improve to 18-2.
Meanwhile, Cook, Hasty, Deep and Daniels went a combined 10-for-13 at the top of the batting order with eight RBI and eight runs scored.
Buford (28-3) will take on Jackson next Thursday.
The two teams split a doubleheader 24 hours earlier as Buford won Game 1 4-0 before Franklin County returned the favor in the nightcap with an 8-0 victory.
In Thursday's winner-take-all Game 3, Franklin County jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning as the Lions got an RBI groundout from Kendsey Chappelear to score Carli Hurtado, who had tripled with one out.
But Buford immediately answered in the bottom half as Deep singled home Cook, who had also singled to start the frame.
After a scoreless second inning, Buford went ahead to stay in a three-run third as Deep singled in Cook and Daniels followed with a double off the fence in center field to plate Hasty and Deep for a 4-1 Wolves' lead.
Meanwhile, Bush was cruising right along.
In fact, the right-hander allowed just one base runner the rest of the night -- a second-inning strikeout that skipped to the backstop to allow Mary Catherine Burrell to reach first.
"You always have that thought in the back of your mind about the pressure of getting back to state after winning it last year," Bush said. "But I always know my teammates are there behind me and trust what I can do. I kept telling myself that I'm doing this for the seniors and we're not going to let them miss going back to state again this year. I know there's pressure, but it pumps me up to do it for these seniors and this team."
Buford put the game away in the fourth as Deep went deep with a three-run homer to score Cook and Hasty to give the Wolves a commanding 7-1 lead.
Daniels followed with a solo homer to push the advantage to 8-1.
Buford finished it off in the fifth as the Wolves loaded the bases and scored the deciding run when Hasty was hit by a pitch and that allowed Bekah Rude to score from third for the final eight-run margin.
Cook finished the game 4-for-4 with three runs scored and Hasty was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Deep was a perfect 3-for-3 with five RBI and two runs scored while Daniels was 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored.
"Of course, there is pressure in a game like this," Deep said. "But it pushes me more, because big-time players step in up in big-time games. And we want to do it for these seniors and get back to state. Just do what we do. That first run got our attention, but we pumped each other up and got that run back."
Franklin County, which posted its fourth straight winning season, finishes at 25-12.