Wednesday September 20th, 2017 8:42AM

Baseball: Wolves pound N. Murray in first round sweep

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
  Contact Editor
BUFORD -- If Buford plays the rest of the Class AAA playoffs the way it did Friday against North Murray in the first round, the rest of the field is in trouble.

The Wolves battered Mountaineers pitching for 22 hits and 28 runs and gave up just seven hits and no runs on the mound in taking a pair of 14-0 wins to sweep the best-of-three series at Gerald McQuaig Field.

Jake Higginbotham (4I, 4H, 9K, 0R) and Connor Bennett (3I, 2H, 5K, 0R) dominated the North Murray lineup in getting the victories on the mound.

At the plate, Nick Wilhite (four hits and six RBI) and Joey Bart (four hits, including a home run, and five RBI) paced a potent Buford offense. The Wolves pounded out 10 hits in Game 1 and 12 hits in Game 2.

After suffering through a stunning first-round loss last year, Buford coach Tony Wolfe said it was a solid opening series win this time around.

"After what happened last year I thought we had a very good approach this time," Wolfe said. "I thought we played well in all phases. The only concern was that our pitch count was higher than we wanted for Jake and Connor. But we hit the ball and played good defense. That's what you want this time of year."

Wilhite has responded since being moved from the No. 2 spot to the No. 5 spot in the lineup to give the Wolves (25-2) more pop in the middle of the order.

"I love being where I am (in the lineup)," Wilhite said. "I'm seeing more fastballs and seeing the ball well right now. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing."

As good as the offense was, Higginbotham set the tone early striking out four of the first five North Murray (11-17) batters in Game 1. Bennett struck out three the first time through the order in Game 2.

Wilhite said the Wolves are wanting to show they are a team to be considered as a title contender.

"The pitching was great and that's the key," Wilhite said. "We feel we have a great shot. I like the lineup with the changes and when we get pitching like that we're tough to beat."

Game 1: Buford 14, North Murray 0

HIgginbotham was sharp early striking out the side and working around a one-out error in the first inning for Buford. The Wolves then went to work quickly against North Murray senior Aaron Granger, a Carson-Newman-signee.

Austin Wilhite lined a 1-2 pitch into center and moved to second on a walk to Higginbotham. Bart drove both runs home on a double to left center for a 2-0 lead with no outs. But the courtesy runner for Bart was caught in a rundown between third and home and Jake Mayo struck out to end what could have a much bigger inning.

The Mountaineers threatened in the top of the second when Brody Frazier walked and Blake Davis followed with a single to center with one out. But Higginbotham got out of the jam fanning the final two batters.

Buford went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the second and the Mountaineers mounted another rally in the top of the third. They loaded the bases against Higginbotham with a pair of singles and a one-out walk. But again Higginbotham wiggled out of trouble getting a ground ball back to the mound and then a grounder to second to keep it a 2-0 Buford lead.

North Murray stranded six through the first three innings.

The Wolves offense answered in the bottom of the third. Higginbotham doubled to center with one out and Bart and Austin Upshaw drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Nick Wilhite would clear the bases three pitches later with a triple to left center just out of the diving reach of Mountaineers' centerfielder Caleb Campbell. Mayo followed with another double to center to push the lead to 6-0.

Higginbotham worked around a one-out single in the fourth with two strike outs to give him eight through four innings. Buford would put the game away in the bottom of the fourth.

The Wolves sent 12 batters to the plate scoring eight times and chasing Granger, who came into the game sporting a 1.13 ERA on the season. Higginbotham had a two-run triple and then Bart highlighted the inning with a towering two-run home run to left. Bayne Miller followed with a RBI single scoring Nick Wilhite, who singled. Mayo scored on a wild pitch and Austin Wilhite added a two-run single with two outs to make it 14-0.

Higginbotham went four innings scattering four hits and fanning nine to get the win. Griffin Jolliff put the finishing touches on the opening-game victory allowing one hit but getting a game-ending double play in the fifth.

Game 2: Buford 14, North Murray 0

The Wolves' offense picked up right where it left off in Game 1. The Wolves pounded North Murray starter Brady Harper for six runs on five hits in the first inning sending 10 batters to the plate.

Higginbotham reached on a bunt single and moved to third on a single by Bart. After Upshaw walked to load the bases, Nick Wilhite knocked in two runs with a single to left. Mayo walked to load the bases again and Hunter Puckett drove in Upshaw with a RBI ground out. Patrick Burnette doubled to center scoring Nick Wilhite and Mayo. Bennett added a RBI hit scoring Burnette a quick 6-0 lead.

In the second, Nick Wilhite and Puckett struck again with RBI hits for Buford and the Wolves added two more runs in the third for a 10-0 lead. They made it 14-0 in the fourth on a RBI double by Jolliff and a RBI groundouts from Bennett and Bart.

That was more than enough for Bennett, who yielded just two hits and fanned five in three innings. Keyton Gibson struck out the side in the fourth and Kevin Coulter fanned two in the fifth to close out the series.

NOTES: Buford improved to 15-0 at home in 2014. . .The Wolves have allowed three runs or fewer in 14 straight games with seven shutouts. . .Buford came into the series averaging 9.8 runs over the last 10 games. They came out averaging 10.5 rpg over the last 12 games.
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