Photo: David McGregor Buford's Parker Stephenson (21) and Montgomery Van Gorder celebrate from the Wolves bench late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's game in the Class AAA state quarterfinals.
Just a few games into the basketball season, the Buford boys' record didn't look promising thanks to a tough schedule.
The Wolves started 1-3 and through nine games were 4-5 after a brutal stretch that included losses to Class AAAAAA powers North Cobb, Tift County and Westlake, as well as Class AAAA semifinalist Eagle's Landing.
But that early-season schedule has paid off since then for Buford, which has won 21 of its past 22 games entering today's Class AAA semifinal 8:30 p.m. matchup with Savannah (27-3) at Armstrong Atlantic State University.
"It's one we are going to enjoy," Buford boys coach Allen Whitehart said of the semifinal trip. "We are going to be able to find ourselves again and see where we go after another challenge."
Buford's only loss in the past 22 games was a disappointing, 68-63 loss to North Hall on Feb. 8. Everything else has clicked since, with a stifling defense leading the way in most of those victories.
The Wolves (25-6) rolled to the Region 7-AAA title with a 50-36, revenge victory over North Hall and followed it up with state tournament wins over Cedar Grove (61-43), Gordon Central (84-68) and Woodward Academy (60-53).
Both Kyle Doyle and A.J. Davis have been strong in the postseason, while Isaiah Williams has maintained his steady play all season. Coby Durden also scored 13 in the win over Woodward and Brad Mapes hit a big 3-pointer late in that one.
The latest victory extended a season that was preceded by heartache when beloved Buford basketball player Adam Smith collapsed during September workouts and died.
"It's really exciting, for these kids it's been our goal (to get to the Final Four)," Whitehart said. "All the running, all the sweating, all the bleeding, everything we went through. Through all the adversity from losing Adam Smith came to fruition."
Savannah stands in the way of Buford's ultimate goal. The Blue Jackets have won 11 in a row and 18 of their last 19.
They also rely on a stout defense, which has given up more than 60 points just once (a 74-63 win over Beach on Feb. 14) during that 19-game stretch. They also are deep as they've been in the past with four double-figure scorers.