COLUMBUS -- Both Buford and Wesleyan got off to quick starts in their respective winner's bracket games of the state softball tournament.
But only one set of Wolves was able to close the deal Friday at the South Commons Softball Complex.
Top-ranked Buford scored three runs in the first two innings to put itself in the driver's seat for a sixth straight state championship with a 7-0 win over No. 4 Central-Carrollton in Class AAA.
Fourth-ranked Wesleyan, meanwhile, failed to hold an early two-run lead thanks to Dade County pitcher Madison Gossett and one run in each of the last three innings, which vaulted the Wolverines to a walk-off 3-2 win in Class AA.
Both teams will be in action for today's championship rounds. Buford (31-3) awaits the winner of the elimination bracket game between Central-Carrollton and Ringgold at noon, while Wesleyan (29-10) must beat Heard County in an elimination game at 9:40 a.m. to earn another shot at Dade County at 11:40 a.m.
Buford followed the same familiar formula which has treated it quite well during its five-year run as AA state champions -- get out to a multiple-run lead early and turn it over to a dominant pitcher.
"We stress trying to get off to a fast start (and) setting a tone," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "Our kids have done a great job (of it) all weekend. It doesn't always work according to plan, but we've had a fast start all weekend, and a fast start today. We got a lead and kind of established that it's still Buford. And then Bria (Bush) has been lights out all weekend."
Against Central-Carrollton (30-8), Niki Cook's lead-off single, plus back-to-back, one-out RBI doubles from Jordan Deep and Tessa Daniels gave the Wolves a quick 2-0 lead.
A two-out walk to Noah Sudderth, a stolen base by courtesy runner Baylee Sexton and a throwing error in the second inning made it 3-0, and that was all Bush (21-2) would need.
The sophomore right-hander went the distance, shutting the Lions down on just two hits with nine strikeouts, running her total to 31 fans in three games in the tournament.
And the Wolves put the game away with four insurance runs in the top of the seventh.
Daniels and Cook each finished the game 3-for-4, with Daniels driving in three runs.
Wesleyan found getting the bat on the ball against Gossett difficult, with the right-hander having fanned 16 hitters over every inning, including striking out each Wolves hitter at least once.
"In the last game we played Westminster (in the Region 6-AA tournament), that was probably the best (pitching performance) we've seen (this season)," Wesleyan coach Nichole Dixon said. "But I thought (Gossett) did a good job."
When the Wolves did make contact, they made it count.
Wesleyan let a big opportunity to break the game open get away early after loading the bases with nobody out in the top of the first, thanks to two big strikeouts by Gossett.
But the Wolves did get on the board on Dacia Jones' RBI single to take a 1-0 lead, and then added to it with two outs and nobody on in the third.
CaraMia Tsirigos rifled a single though the hole between second before Victoria DiStasi sent a towering drive to the base of the fence in left field for the first of her doubles on the night, which brought home courtesy runner Emily Farrow and extended the Wesleyan lead to 2-0.
And it seemed like it might be enough for Jones, who took a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth.
But after Carly Stephens reached on an error, went to second on Carri Pierce's sacrifice bunt and third on a will, Sydney Vaughan broke up the no-hitter with a grounder that took a wicked hop past Lauren Daniel at third for a RBI single that pulled Dade County to within 2-1.
Jones then gave way to Amanda DeLaPerriere (15-7), who quickly got into trouble in the bottom of the sixth by walking Gossett, hitting Hailey Gass and giving up a single to Summer Stevens, but the senior kept the damage to a minimum with a little help from her defense.
Leftfielder Riley Henning gunned down courtesy runner Maddy Castleberry trying to score on Stevens' single, and after Madison Lacy tied the game 2-2 with a sacrifice fly to deep center, struck out Stephens to keep Wesleyan in the game.
But she couldn't escape the bottom of the seventh, when Pierce hit a leadoff single and came all the way around to score the game-winning run when the throw on Vaughan's sacrifice bunt went awry.
Despite the disappointing ending, the Wolves still have a chance at their first title, even though they will have to work a little harder to get it.
"They understand (that) by winning (twice on Thursday), it set themselves in a good situation," Dixon said. "I still feel really good about our bats and feel great about our pitching. I still think we have an advantage. Neither one of our pitchers are tired."