BUFORD — One always hopes that milestones are reached in exciting fashion.
Whether Buford baseball coach Stuart Chester was hoping that or not Wednesday at Gerald McQuaig Field, he got it.
Chester won his 600th career game when Buford’s Kaleb Elder scored on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice in the bottom of the seventh to give the Wolves a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 victory over defending state champ Loganville in both teams’ Region 8-5A opener.
But the win was more than just a milestone. It also snapped a five-game losing streak to the Red Devils going back to 2017. The two teams now will head to Loganville on Friday with Buford (9-4, 1-0 Region 8-5A) having a chance to sweep the series and jump two games up in the region standings in the opening week.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s always special when you reach something like this,” Chester said. “But great players make people great coaches. I’ve been blessed over the years to have some great players around me.
“As for this game, this was a huge win for us. We obviously still have to go to their place. That's a tough place to win. But I think the pressure will be on the other side of the field (on Friday).”
Speaking of pressure, Buford pitcher Dylan Lesko may already be immune to it. The freshman right-hander pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief allowing just two hits and striking out five to get the win. He was able to pitch around a double in the sixth and a hit an error in the seventh.
“He might be just a freshman but the talent and poise he has is like a senior,” Chester said. “We put him in against DeSoto Central in the Perfect Game tournament and he was outstanding. He wants the ball and we’re not worried about giving it to him no matter the situation.”
Lesko’s work on the mound was a key factor after both teams’ starters -- senior Auburn-signee Ramsey David for Buford and junior Caleb Garner for Loganville -- excited by the fifth inning. The top four hitters in the Red Devils’ lineup was a combined 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against Lesko.
With runners at first and second and just one out in the top of the seventh and the game still knotted at 2, he was able to get Loganville slugger Dylan Strickland to ground out and fanned Brocker Way to get out of the jam.
“I just tried to keep those guys off-balance as much as I could,” Lesko said. “(The seventh inning) was by far the toughest situation I’ve ever been in but I just tried to stay focused.”
That set up the dramatic bottom of the seventh. Loganville reliever Michael Knight walked Kaleb Elder to lead off the inning and was replaced by Dawson Hammonds, who then walked Austin Turner. Two pitches later Hammonds was called for a balk putting Elder and Turner at second and third with no one out. Hammonds recovered to strike out Christian Griffin and the Red Devils intentionally walked Evan Place to load the bases looking for a double play.
The Red Devils got the ground ball they wanted but they could not turn Joseph Salvo’s slow roller to short into a double play and Elder scored from third for the game winner.
“That was a big for us, especially with it being in the region,” Lesko said.
From the beginning, it was almost destined to be a pitcher’s duel between David and Garner. And both pitchers were in a groove early. David fanned one and worked around a two-out single by David Braswell in the first and a two-out walk to Ian King in the second.
Garner set down the Wolves in order in the first with a pair of strikeouts. Salvo led off the second for the Wolves with a single to right but Garner got a strikeout of Patrick Walker, Eli Ledford hit into a fielder’s choice, and Riley Stanford grounded out to end the inning.
David, however, ran into big trouble in the third. Jackson Howell walked and stole second without. Way walked with one out, and Braswell ripped a two-run double off the centerfield wall to give the Red Devils a 2-0 lead.
But Buford answered right back getting a leadoff home run from Brandon Jolliff. Garner then plunked Elder, who moved to second on a sacrifice by Turner. Elder moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a fielder’s choice by Place. But the Wolves also left a pair of runners stranded in the inning as Garner was able to get out the inning with a strikeout and a ground out.
Both pitchers got through the fourth in quick fashion but David’s day ended after a strikeout of Howell to open the fifth inning. David went 4 1/3 innings scattering two hits and walking three while fanning four.
Lesko came on for David and fanned Strickland and got Way to ground out to third to set the Red Devils (4-4, 0-1 Region 8-5A) down in order in the fifth.
Garner's day was done after five innings as he surrendered three hits and gave up just the two runs while striking out six. Knight took over and fanned two in a scoreless sixth.
Loganville was just 1-for-6 with RISP for the game. Buford was 0-for-7 with RISP but two of the Wolves RBI came on fielder’s choice in key moments.
“When you have two teams evenly-matched like this, it almost always comes down to who executes the little things better. We did a great job of that tonight,” Chester said.”That is what won us the game.”