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Friday May 27th, 2022 1:53AM

Baseball playoffs: Pope ousts Buford for 2nd straight playoffs

By Jeff Hart | Video by Seth Chapman
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MARIETTA — Buford was looking for a measure of revenge on Saturday against a Pope team that knocked them out of the Class 6A playoffs in 2021.

Pope, however, had designs on its first championship series since 2019.

The Greyhounds used timely hitting and a stellar pitching performance from Jack Butler to knock out the Wolves for a second consecutive season, sweeping them 8-5 and 8-4 in the Class 6A semifinals at Jeff Rowland Field.

Pope went a blistering 9-for-20 (.450 BA) with RISP with 13 RBI in the series. Buford was just 3-of-5 for 5 RBI for the series. The Greyhounds also were clutch scoring seven runs with two outs in the series-clincher.

Four big Buford errors in the opening game also led to three key unearned runs.

“We kicked it around a good bit in that first game and you can’t do that at this level against good teams like that,” Buford coach Stuart Chester said. “Pope capitalized on our mistakes. The ball bounced their way in the second game and they got some timely hits and we struggled getting that last out a couple of times.”

The Wolves (28-10) already were handicapped coming into the series without star Dylan Lesko and Carson King. But they had managed to go 6-1 in the playoffs through the first three rounds.

However, they ran into a Pope squad (31-7) that is now a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs.

“We were pretty banged up coming into this but I love this team and the way they have battled with all the things going on,” Chester said. “We didn’t play that well today but no one can take away what they’ve been able to do this year.”

The Game 1 loss for Buford marked the first time the Wolves had trailed in a series in the 2022 playoffs. They had been 1-0 in elimination games until Game 2 against the Greyhounds.

The Greyhounds move on the Class 6A finals set to begin on Thursday at 5 p.m. with a doubleheader at Truist Park, Home of the Atlanta Braves. A deciding third game, if needed, will be on Friday at noon.

They will take on fellow Region 6-6A foe Allatoona, which swept a third Region 6-6A team, Lassiter, in the other semifinal.

Game 1: Pope 8, Buford 5

Greyhounds’ starter Dawson Campbell was dominating early needing just 6 pitches to get through the first, all strikes, with two pop ups and a weak ground ball to open the game.

The Pope offense went to work quickly against Buford starter Jackson Gaspard as Trey Kaiser singled and stole second to open the bottom of the first. Campbell followed with a RBI single to left and moved to third on the play on two errors by Parker Walsh. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Carson Kerce to make it 2-0.

But Gaspard dialed in after that. The senior Georgia Tech-signee retired the next eight batters and 9 of 10 through the third inning to keep the Wolves within striking distance.

The Buford offense struggled early against the southpaw Campbell, who allowed just a leadoff single in the second through the first three innings and fanning two. The Wolves finally broke through in the fourth.

Brant Baughcum led off with a solo home run and Cannon Goldin later stroked a two-out, two-run single scoring Kaden Martin and Stan Zagrodnik for a 3-2 Wolves lead.

But the Greyhounds answered right back in the bottom of the inning, touching Gaspard for five hits and four runs, with RBI singles from Jack Myers and Cooper Orr and a two-run single from Kaiser for a 6-3 lead. They never trailed again.

The Wolves closed the gap to 6-5 in the fifth as Walsh smacked a two-run home run after Andrew McMurray reached on a bunt single.

Pope extended the lead in the fifth with an unearned run and brought in Kerce to start the sixth.

Campbell, who got the win, went five innings surrendering five runs on eight hits and struck out three.

Buford also went to the pen in the sixth bringing in senior Zachary Bailey. Gaspard, who took the loss, went five innings as well, giving up seven runs, only five earned, on eight hits and two walks while fanning four.

Pope again added on in the sixth with its third unearned run of the game for an 8-5 lead.

Kerce earned the save  for the Greyhounds, retiring 6 of the 7 batters he faced.

Game 2: Pope 8, Buford 4

The Greyhounds again jumped out to a quick lead on Riley Stanford as Kaiser walked and Campbell singled to open the game. Kerce followed with a single driving in Kaiser but he was gunned down trying to reach second on the play.

Stanford then made another huge defensive play for Buford tagging out Campbell at the plate trying to score on a suicide squeeze by Kent Schmidt. Stanford then struck out McGill to end the inning with just one run scoring.

Pope blew it open in the second. After Stanford got the first two batters, Orr and Jones singled and Kaiser walked to load the bases. Campbell walked, driving in a run, Kerce ripped a two-run single to right scoring two, and Schmidt followed with a two-run single as well for a shocking 6-0 lead.

The Greyhounds made it 7-0 in the third before Stanford and the Wolves held them scoreless in the fourth, the first scoreless frame for Pope since the third in Game 1.

Stanford lasted just four innings allowing seven runs on eight hits and walking five and striking out just one.

Meanwhile, Jack Butler started and went the distance for Pope. He limited the Wolves to just two hits through the first four innings.

But Buford finally got on the board in the fifth when Nate Taylor singled and scored on a three-base error on a sacrifice bunt attempt by McMurray, who wound up at third. He scored on a single by Baughcum to pull within 7-2. Martin followed with a long two-run homer to dead center to cut the lead to 7-4.

Martin, who came on in the fifth, settled things down on the mound going the final three innings, allowing just a seventh-inning run on another two-out hit by the Greyhounds, their seventh of the game.

After Martin’s home run, Butler shut the door on the Buford offense, retiring the final eight batters to push the Greyhounds into the finals.

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