BUFORD -- It wasn't the classic it was building toward, but the Buford baseball team couldn't care less.
After a scoring just three runs in a pair of pitcher's duels Tuesday in the opening games of their best-of-three Class AAA quarterfinal series with Pike County, the Wolves' offense exploded in Game 3 for a 4-1, rain-shortened win in five innings over the Pirates in the deciding third game Wednesday at Gerald McQuaig Field.
The game was initially suspended around 7:25 p.m. in the top of the sixth with two outs and Buford actually leading 8-1. It was eventually called at 9:04 after five innings after the field was declared unplayable.
Buford (29-3) will play the Cartersville-Callaway winner next Monday in the semifinal round. The third game of that series in Cartersville was postponed until Thursday. Buford will host the semifinal series no matter the opponent.
"You hate to win a game like this and it's not how you want to end a series," Buford coach Tony Wolfe said. "But for five innings we did what we needed to do. The kids responded to the pressure of a third game."
The two teams had split a doubleheader on Tuesday with Buford winning Game 1, 3-1, and the Pirates returning the favor 1-0 in Game 2.
The offenses decided they would not be overmatched for a second day.
Buford starter Kevin Coulter allowed a run in the first inning. The Pirates' Kole Adams singled to start the inning and later scored on a wild pitch with two outs to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead after one inning.
"I think it was good that we fell behind to a certain degree. You want to know what kind of character the team has and I think we found out," Wolfe said.
Buford would answer right back in the top of the second against Pike County starter Dustin Hammond.
Austin Upshaw walked to begin the second and then scored on double to center by Nick Wilhite to tie the game 1-1. Wilhite moved to third on a sacrifice by Jake Mayo and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Hunter Puckett for a 2-1 lead.
Coulter retired the Pirates in order in the second and the Wolves offense added on in the third. Jake Higginbotham walked with one out and Austin Upshaw followed with a monster two-out, two-run home run over the trees in right for a 4-1 lead.
The rain began to fall in the fourth and the Pirates (26-5) had a huge opportunity to cut into the Buford lead while the weather was manageable. Adams reached on a bad-hop single -- his third hit of the game -- Hammond walked, and Tristin English reached on a fielder's choice error with two out to load the bases. But Coulter got Kurt Cox to groundout to end the inning with no damage done.
Coulter allowed just three hits and fanned three in getting the win. For the series, Buford pitchers allowed just three runs.
"Kevin fought a slippery ball, slippery mound, the weather. It wasn't his best game but he made the pitches when he needed too," Wolfe said. "Really, I can't say enough about all three guys that pitched."
Buford scored four runs in the sixth before the rains swamped the field.
Joey Bart lined a double to left-center and Nick Wilhite reached on an infield hit with one out. Courtesy runner Brandon Marsh then scored on a Jake Mayo single to to right. Mayo was called out trying to steal second and it looked like the Pirates would get out of the inning trailing just 5-1. But Patrick Burnette launched a ball to deep right and Pike County right fielder Tyler Gregory crashed into the fence diving for the ball resulting in a three-run, inside-the-park home run for Burnette to give the Wolves an 8-1 lead.
Gregory would eventually walk off under his own power but was forced to leave the game. However, Burnette appeared to roll an ankle crossing the plate and had to be helped off the field.
While they were tending to Gregory, the bottom fell out and Buford players and coaches covered the mound and home plate area. Lightning was then spotted in the area and the game was suspended at that point.
"The last inning doesn't officially count but it shows that the guys were able to step up when they needed to," Wolfe said.