COLUMBUS — Buford started its Halloween Day with a scare it would’ve preferred to do without.
But after holding off stubborn Central-Carrollton 3-2 in its opener of the Class AAA State Softball Tournament on Thursday, the six-time defending state champions looked more like the big, bad Wolves in their second-round game later in the evening.
Morgan Walters’ grand slam highlighted a six-run second inning as Buford cruised to a 10-2 run-rule win over Ringgold to earn a spot in Friday’s 5 p.m. at the South Commons Softball Complex.
“I thought, for whatever reason, we were tight (in the first game),” said Buford coach Tony Wolfe, whose Wolves (35-1) will take on Oconee County in the winner’s bracket finals scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday. “I think some of that comes from … anytime you find yourself in a game where … you’re struggling to come up with some baserunners, you start feeling little bit of pressure.
“You’d think as much as these girls have been through this that they would’ve been a little bit more relaxed. But I think we were much more relaxed in Game 2.”
The Wolves never trailed in the opener against Central-Carrollton, but they were never really able to break the game open and were actually outhit 5-3 by the Lions.
Still, Buford got a pair of RBIs from Sydney Starvo, plus a hit, two stolen bases and an RBI from Baylee Sexton, which was enough to back the complete-game pitching effort of Bria Bush (16-1), who scattered five hits and an earned run and struck out four.
And whatever jitters the Wolves had in their second-round game against Ringgold were gone early. Walters saw to that.
The senior put Buford ahead to stay by driving in a run with a single in the top of the first, but her biggest hit of the night came in the second, when she blasted a grand slam that keyed a six-run outburst that gave the Wolves a 7-0 lead, and allowed them to catch their breath.
“I definitely think everybody relaxed a little bit after a bigger, more comfortable lead,” Walters said. “We kind of fell into our mentality that we usually play with.
“We definitely wanted to come out stronger mentally and physically than the first game. We’re here to really make a statement and show people what we’re made of, and we really wanted to do that in the second game.”
And the Wolves did just that by ending the game after just five innings due to the run rule behind Walters, who finished the game 3-for-3 with five RBIs, as well as Tessa Daniels and Jordan Deep, who each had a hit and drove in two runs.
Bush also got the win by going 3 2/3 innings before handing the ball to Daniels, who threw the last 1 1/3 innings to close out the victory and put Buford just one more win away from an appearance in the championship round for the seventh straight year.
“We’ve talked earlier that there’s pressure on this team to perform, maybe more so than others (in the past),” Wolfe said. “Knowing we’re in that last day of playing (no matter what happens today), I’m hoping relaxes us. I’m hoping a good night’s sleep after a long day of softball relaxes us a little bit, too. We know we’ve got better ball in us than we showed (Thursday).
“We feel like it’s going to show up. It’s a matter of time before it has to show through.”