BUFORD — Buford senior first baseman Noah Ledford has been here before.
He was the starting catcher for the Wolves in 2016 as a sophomore when they lost to Locust Grove in the Class 4A state finals. So, when the Wolves play host to Region 8-5A foe Flowery Branch on Tuesday in the Class 5A semifinals at Gerald McQuaig Field, Ledford, a Georgia Southern-signee, may be leaned on a little more for some key insight by his fellow roster-mates.
Ledford is one of just a handful of Wolves on the current roster that was part of that 2016 playoff run. Several current key players, like pitchers Ramsey David and Sean Adams, have never played this late in the season after Wayne County dumped Buford in the second round in last year’s playoffs.
However, a new coach in Stuart Chester, of Cartersville fame, took over for long-time coach Tony Wolfe, who stepped down after the 2017 campaign to assume more full-time duties as Assistant Athletics Director this season. That brought change to a program that had had very little over the past 20 seasons.
AccessWDUN sports reporter Jeff Hart caught up with Ledford after the the Wolves’ quarterfinal round sweep of Ola to discuss the changes and what to look for in what is expected to be an emotional and contentious series between school’s that are just 14 miles apart.
QUESTION: What has this year been like with a new coach and not seeing Coach Wolfe in the dugout?
ANSWER: It was a little different without Coach Wolfe at first but it really didn’t take us too long to make the transition. Coach Chester has brought a lot of energy to the program. He has been a great positive change for the program and I think he is going to build it up even more than it already is. Buford is in good hands for the future.
Q: What were your expectations coming into the season with all these new changes?
A: We lost some good players from last season but we also felt like we had a chance to put something together, especially once we found out who was going to be taking over the program. From the first day (that coach Chester arrived) the expectations were to try and win the region and make a deep run in the playoffs. That never changes, no matter who is here.
Q: It seems like there has been some up-and-down moments this year. When did you see things really begin to come together for this group?
A: Probably at the Perfect Game tournament (in Cartersville). We went 3-1 and our only loss was to (Class 3A No. 1-ranked) Blessed Trinity. We started to play more consistent and even though we lost to Blessed Trinity (16-7) we won three close games and it showed that we could compete with the really good teams. We started rolling after that. [The Wolves won 11 of their next 13 games.] We did lose two to Loganville but we’ve brought a lot of positive energy into the playoffs.
Q: Now to Tuesday’s matchup. Y’all swept Flowery Branch during the regular season [14-2 and 6-1] . Does that give y’all any kind of advantage at this point in the season?
A: It’s the playoffs now. Anything can happen. Flowery Branch is on a roll and they have two pitchers that can beat anyone. You can’t take anyone lightly and we won’t take them lightly even though we beat them twice already. I expect a battle and a lot of emotions between the two teams. This should be a great series to watch.
Q: Can this group win the state title? To do that you’ll have to first get past the Falcons and then most-likely defending state champion Loganville, which swept y’all during the regular season?
A: I think we can. We’re playing well right now also. We just need to stick to what we’re doing right now and not make mistakes at critical times. The second game against Flowery Branch was tight until the end so we know we will have to play our best. The two games against Loganville I think we were pressing a little too much. We just need to relax a little more and play our game. If we can do that, we definitely have a shot.