ATHENS — After an emotional semifinal win over rival Flowery Branch last week, the emotions of trying to capture a state title may have finally gotten to a young Buford squad.
The Wolves could not match the sharpness or intensity of their two game sweep of the Falcons as the tables were turned on them by defending Class 5A state champion Loganville Monday night in the championship series at the University of Georgia’s Foley Field.
The Red Devils pummeled Buford 13-3 in five innings in the first game and then held off several hard charges by the Wolves in a 3-2 nail-biter in the second game to clinch the series and the title.
Buford coach Stuart Chester said the moment hit them hard early and they never truly recovered.
“There was a lot of emotion coming off last week, maybe too much, especially in that first game, which just got away from us,” Chester said. “But this is a young team experience-wise. There probably weren’t too many people that thought this group would get this far. They had a great run. They just hadn’t experienced what the finals is all about and it’s just something you have to experience to understand. Now they do.”
Many expected the two teams to slug it out on the mound as they came into the series having allowed just 21 runs in 16 total playoff games combined. The second game, which featured 11 of 14 scoreless frames in a battle of southpaws in Sean Adams of Buford and Loganville’s Seth Clark, was what a packed Foley Field were expecting.
However, it was a blister on the pitching hand off Wolves’ Game 1 starter Ramsey David that played a big factor as he lasted just 2-plus innings surrendering 8 runs, just 6 earned, on 6 hits and 5 walks in a Game 1 loss.
“He developed it in the second inning and he said he could pitch through it,” Chester said. “It just got to the point where we had to make a move. I don’t know how he lasted as long as he did. He just wanted to battle for his team.
“But that first game kind of put a damper on the mood a little bit for everyone. We recovered in the second game but we were behind early again and just couldn’t get to that Game 3, which was our goal.”
The Wolves (28-13) were looking for their second title in four seasons after claiming the Class 4A crown in 2015. They lost to Locust Grove in the 2016 Class 4A finals.
But a Buford offense that came in averaging 8.0 runs a game never found a groove against Red Devils’ aces Joseph Brandon and Clark, who gave up just five runs combined on 9 hits in 11 2/3 innings of work.
“That second game is I think what most of us thought the whole series would be like but their guys were tough and we just couldn’t get as much going as we wanted,” Chester said. “You have to give Loganville credit. They’re a great team and did what they needed to do.”
Game 1: Loganville 13, Buford 3, 5 innings
The usually reliable pitching for Buford was the story as four Wolves pitchers surrendered 11 hits and walked a season-high 10 batters. The Loganville offense came in red-hot and didn’t cool off going a blistering 7-of-14 with RISP in the first game.
It started differently, however, as the Wolves jumped on Brandon early. Austin Turner opened the series with a single and Griffin Price moved him over on a sacrifice bunt. But after Evan Place was hit by a pitch, Turner was picked off second for the second out. But Buford would manufacture some two-out damage.
Noah Ledford walked and Reece McIntyre had a bloop single off the second baseman’s glove scoring Place. Garrison Price followed with a RBI hit to right giving the Wolves a 2-0 lead.
Loganville answered right back in the bottom of the first, however. David walked Brandon and Bryant Pietri with one out and after a strikeout of Tanner Green, Bay Witcher knocked in Brandon with a single to left to trim Buford’s lead to 2-1. Daniel Braswell followed with a RBI single to right to tie the game at 2-2.
Patrick Walker got things going quickly for Buford in the second doubling off the glove of Green in deep left center. Turner walked with one out and both moved up on a passed ball with two outs. But Brandon fanned Place to get out of the jam .
In the Red Devils’ second, Jackson Howell walked and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch with one out. Dylan Strickland then gave Loganville a 3-2 lead with a RBI single up the middle scoring Howell. Loganville added a gift run as Buford committed two errors on a ground ball back to the pitcher by Brandon. Strickland scored all the way from first and Brandon ended up at third on the play. Brandon later scored on a sac fly by Green for a 5-2 lead but Pietri, who had walked, was gunned down at second trying to advance to end the inning.
That was the momentum Brandon needed as he settled down the rest of the way. He retired six in a row and fanned five consecutive batters, including striking out the side in the third, into the fourth inning. Walker broke up the streak with a one-out triple in the fourth and scored on a groundout by Grant James.
Loganville broke it open in the third batting around. The inning started with three consecutive singles by Witcher, Braswell and Jacob Boyd to load the bases with no one out. David then walked Howell driving in Witcher and he gave way to reliever Garrett Glover. Glover got the first two batters he faced but walked Brandon to drive in a run an Pietri singled knocking in Howell for an 8-2 lead.
Buford tried to rally in the fifth as Griffin Price coaxed a walk and Place and McIntyre both got hit by pitches to load the bases with one out. But Brandon struck out Garrison Price and got Brandon Jolliff to line out to left to end the inning.
Brandon retired five of the final eight Buford batters and fanned nine in the five-inning complete game.
Loganville put it away with five runs in the fifth. A sacrifice fly from Brandon scored Lance Spooner for a 9-3 lead. That knocked out Glover, who gave way to Chase Rhodes. Glover went 2 1/2 innings giving up two runs and scattering three hits and a walk while striking out two.
The Red Devils roughed up Rhodes as Pietri walked and Green singled in Strickland for a 10-3 lead. Rhodes walked Witcher and Braswell driving in Pietri. Dylan McKinnis came in for Rhodes and walked Boyd and gave up a RBI single to Howell to invoke the Mercy Rule.
Game 2: Loganville 3, Buford 2
Loganville struck quick in the second game as Bryant Pietri blasted a two-run home run to left for a 2-0 lead just three batters in and that’s nearly all Clark needed.
The Red Devils continued their assault of Buford pitching in the second as Boyd singled, stole second and third, and came in on a Ian King hit for a 3-0 lead. But they stranded King at second when Adams got Strickland and Brandon to fly out to get out of the mess.
The Buford offense finally came to life in the bottom of the second. Ledford was hit to lead off and moved around to third on an error and a passed ball. After a walk to McIntyre, Ledford scored on a single by Garrison Price to cut the lead to 3-1. The Wolves closed to 3-2 when McIntyre scored from second on a fielder’s choice and an error on a grounder by Walker. But the Red Devils got out of the inning when courtesy-runner KJ Johnson was thrown out at home on an attempted double steal.
Both teams would have chances over the final five innings but the Red Devils could not blow it open and the Wolves never got the equalizer.
Loganville got a leadoff triple from Boyd to start the fourth when the ball skipped past Garrison Price in right. After a strikeout and a pop up to second, Adams surrendered consecutive walks to Strickland and Brandon. Buford brought in Griffin Bonner to try and get out of huge mess and he got Pietri to ground out to third to end the inning to keep it a 3-2 score.
Ledford just missed a home run in the fourth flying out to deep center as Green chased it down on the warning track. But McIntyre and Walker both walked sandwiched around Jolliff reaching on an error to load the bases later in the inning. But Clark got James to ground out to third to end the threat.
In the fifth the Buford defense made its presence felt as Turner pulled off a highlight-reel catch in center robbing Witcher of at least a double. Place made a great running catch of a pop out by Blaine Marchman and then Walker gunned down Green at second trying to steal to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning Clark struck out the side for his first perfect inning of the game. Bonner got the Red Devils in order for first time in series in the sixth. Clark set down the Wolves in order in the bottom of the inning and retired 9 of the final 10 Buford batters he faced.
Witcher closed out the series striking out Turner, who represented the winning run, to end the game.
Chester said the main lesson he hopes his group gets is the bitter taste the series left.
“That taste is a bad one so hopefully they’ll remember that when they get ready for next season,” he said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn but it’s necessary and we’ll use that to build for next year and beyond. I think the future is extremely bright for Buford baseball.”