BUFORD -- Pitching, pitching, pitching.
It wins championships and the way the Buford starters are dealing so far in the Class AAA playoffs, the biggest question may be can anyone score on the Wolves' top-line pitchers.
Buford got two more stellar starting performances on the mound Wednesday as the Wolves took 7-0 and 10-4 victories over St. Pius to sweep their second round series and advance to the quarterfinals.
Jake Higginbotham fanned 15 and yielded just two hits and three base runners getting the win in Game 1. Kevin Coulter, who did not pitch in the Wolves' first round series, pitched a no-hitter through four innings and fanned five in earning the win in Game 2 to help complete the sweep of the Golden Lions (20-8).
Buford (27-2) had pitched three consecutive shutouts in the first two rounds of the playoffs before giving up four runs in a crazy fifth inning of Game 2 when St. Pius was down to its final strike. The Golden Lions were able to keep the game alive when a sure series-clinching fly ball was lost in the lights.
Despite the defensive miscue, Buford coach Tony Wolfe was all smiles when mention of his pitchers was brought up. In four games so far in the playoffs, the Buford starters have pitched 19 scoreless innings.
"We have faith in all our guys and they are really throwing the ball well right now," Wolfe said. "I don't think I've ever seen Jake throw better and Kevin was dominant in his time out there. If not for a lost ball in the lights we get another shutout. That's what you want this time of year."
Buford next will play host to the Pike County-SE Bulloch matchup in the quarterfinals next Tuesday.
Higginbotham matched a career-high in strikeouts with the 15. He also fanned 15 against White County earlier this season in a duel with Georgia-bound Adam Spencer of the Warriors.
"I think this was probably the best command I've had of my pitches," Higginbotham said. "I felt great during bullpen and felt I was going to have a good game. I'm just glad we were able to get the (series) win and move on. That's what it's really all about."
The two losses for St. Pius were the first against a Georgia team in its past 13 games. The Titans came in with a seven-game win streak and had won 12 of 14 until running into the Wolves pithcing staff.
Game 1: Buford 7, St. Pius 0
Buford got the first break of the game in the bottom of the first inning. Joey Bart reached on a throwing error by the shortstop and then scored on a RBI double to center by Austin Upshaw for a 1-0 lead. The Golden Lions suffered an even bigger blow, however, when first baseman Jack Walsh collided with Bart on the errant throw and was forced to leave the game with an undisclosed injury. He did not return and did not play in Game 2.
That was all Higginbotham would need. The junior southpaw was dominant early retiring the first 11 St. Pius batters, eight by strikeout, including seven straight from the second to fourth innings.
The Lions' Sean Mootry broke up the perfect game and no-hitter with a two-out single to center in the fourth inning.
Buford extended its lead to 2-0 in the third getting a run on a wild pitch by St. Pius starter Garrett Gooden. The Wolves continued to play small-ball adding two runs in the fourth on a two-run single from Austin Wilhite. Upshaw added a bases loaded sacrifice fly scoring Wilhite to make it 5-0 heading to the fifth.
Higginbotham continued to deal fanning two more in the fifth and the side in the sixth to give him 14 while allowing just two base runners. Upshaw then put the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth with a two-run double for a 7-0 lead.
Higginbotham would tally one more strikeout in the seventh to finish with 15 for the game.
Game 2: Buford 10, St. Pius 4
The Wolves' offense picked up where it left off in Game 1. Austin Wilhite led off with a double to right and after Higginbotham reached on a wild pitch on a third strike, both would come around to score on a home run to center by Bart for a quick 3-0 lead. Upshaw then reached on a pair of errors by the left fielder and then scored from third on a wild pitch to make it a 4-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the third when Hunter Puckett gave Buford a 6-0 lead on a two-out, two-run single to right. Patrick Burnett followed with a two-run triple, and Jordan Perlotte made it 9-0 but was gunned down at third trying to stretch it to a triple.
The Wolves made it a 10-0 lead on a two-out, RBI double by Upshaw in the top of the fourth.
Coulter would give way in the fifth for Keyton Gibson. Coulter went four no-hit innings fanning five and walking one. He also hit a batter for just two base runners while he was on the mound.
Gibson had the Golden Lions down to their final strike when Brandon Mitchell's lazy fly ball to left was lost in the lights, scoring two runs. St. Pius added two more in the inning.
Connor Bennett relieved Gibson in the sixth and pitched the final two innings without allowing a run.