GAINESVILLE -- Buford baseball coach Tony Wolfe felt like his undefeated and No. 1-ranked Wolves needed a test.
North Hall obliged Wednesday night at Jody Davis Field.
Buford overcame a five-run deficit in the last two innings to pull out a thrilling 9-8 victory over the Trojans in eight innings. The Wolves (11-0, 8-0 Region 7-AAA) were down to their final strike in the seventh inning trailing 8-6.
"We needed a test and I knew we would get one here," Wolfe said. "This is one of the toughest places to get a win on the road anywhere. I can't even remember the last time we won a game here.
"I was proud of how our guys battled back and didn't give up when they got down big in the sixth. It was a total team effort."
Buford led 2-0 and 3-2 early before North Hall (7-6, 5-3) responded with six runs in the middle innings, including a four-run sixth, to take would looked like an insurmountable 8-3 lead into the seventh.
Buford did not go away, however. The Wolves rallied for five runs in the top of the seventh, capped by a two-run home run from Griffin Jolliff with two outs. Jolliff fouled off six pitches with two strikes by Corbin Lewallen, who came in in relief to start the inning, before his blast to left field. Austin Upshaw had a two-run double to cut the lead to 8-5 and Bayne Miller drove in one run on a double-play groundball one batter before Jolliff's blast.
"Griffin had not played the last couple of games to kind of get back in a groove and I felt like he would do something big for us," Wolfe said. "He had a tremendous at-bat there."
Sophomore Austin Wilhite, who came in for starter Jake Higginbotham in the fifth, retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced after giving up four runs in the sixth to earn the win.
"Austin is a strike thrower and except for the sixth I thought he gave us exactly what we needed: someone to get some innings and keep us in the game," Wolfe said.
With the win, Buford remains no worse than tied for first place with White County atop the region standings.
The Wolves jumped on North Hall starter Brandon DeLong quickly in the first. Austin Wilhite walked and then scored on a double by Nick Wilhite, who took third on a throwing error. Nick Wilhite scored on a RBI groundout by Joey Bart for a 2-0 lead three batters into the game.
The Trojans answered in the bottom of the first as Higginbotham was not as sharp as usual early on. Higginbotham walked Andrew Smith to start and McCoy Savage followed with an infield hit. Micah Strickland walked to load the bases with no one out. Lincoln Hewett knocked in Smith with a flare to left and Corbin Lewallen drove in Savage on a RBI fielder's choice to tie the game at 2-2.
The Wolves reclaimed the lead 3-2 in the top of the second but it could have been a much bigger inning. Buford had runners at second and third with no outs after a Puckett walk and Jolliff double. But DeLong got Higginbotham to ground out to the pitcher and allowed just a Ben Wicker RBI ground out to get out of the inning.
Both teams had chances for a big inning in the third. The Wolves loaded the bases on three walks with two outs, chasing DeLong. Andrew Smith came in and got Jolliff to fly to right to end the inning. The Trojans loaded the bases on a double by Hewett, a walk to Lewallen, and a one-out single by Matthew Cox. But Higginbotham struck out Drew Coker to end the threat.
DeLong went 2 2/3 innings yielding two hits but walking five and giving up two earned runs.
In the fourth, Buford had two runners on with no outs after back-to-back singles by Higginbotham and Wicker but Smith was able to get out of the jam with a flyout to right by Austin Wilhite, then Wicker was thrown out trying to steal second, and Nick Wilhite grounded out to short to end the inning.
The Trojans tied the game in the fourth on a two-out walk by Savage and then a RBI triple by Strickland.
Higginbotham, who went four innings allowing five hits, fanning seven, walking four, and giving up three runs, gave way to Austin Wilhite in the fifth. The Trojans took advantage.
Stephen Murray, who fanned twice against Higginbotham, doubled to center and then scored with two outs on Josh Hammonds' pinch-hit single for a 4-3 lead.
The North Hall defense played a big role in the comeback. Murray threw out Wicker twice trying to steal second, the second time to end the sixth inning, and Savage made a sliding catch in right field to end the third with the bases loaded.
North Hall got to Wilhite in the bottom of the sixth. Smith was hit to start the inning, moved to second on a sacrifice, and to third on a balk by Wilhite. Strickland and Hewett would walk to load the bases. Lewallen would clear the bases with a double to center with a drawn-in defense. Matthew Cox would later drive in Lewallen on a fielder's choice for an 8-3 lead.
After Jolliff's home run, Taber Mongero came in for Lewallen to get out of the inning and took the hill in the eighth for North Hall. In the eighth, Buford reclaimed the lead 9-8 on a bases loaded RBI fielder's choice by Jake Mayo.
The Trojans would get the tying run to third in the bottom of the eighth but Wilhite got Murray, who had two hits in his first two at-bats against him, to flyout to left to end the game.
"Austin did a nice job in the last two innings and (Austin) Upshaw made some tremendous plays at shortstop," Wolfe said. "We're lucky to come out of here with a win.
Buford next will play host to West Hall Friday and in the first of their home-and-home series.
North Hall will play host to White County on Friday in the first of their home-and-home series.