Posted: Friday, May 27th 2011 at 2:33pm
Baseball: Revenge an afterthought for Wolves with title on line
By Morgan Lee Editor
BUFORD -- Forget any talk of revenge, the Class AA championship series between Buford and Pike County is far too big for that.
"No one's going to care about who knocked who out last year once the games start," Wolves baseball coach Tony Wolfe said. "The state championship takes priority over everything else."
Wolfe added that Pike's second round sweep of Buford in last year's playoffs will act only as a reference point for both squads when they face off again -- beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday with a doubleheader in the best-of-three series in Buford. (Game 3, if necessary, would start at 4 p.m. on Monday.)
"Last year will give us a starting point, but after that, everything else goes out the window," Wolfe said. "Both teams have changed some from a year ago, and each team has grown a lot through the season."
One thing is certain, both the Wolves (29-3) and the Pirates (30-6) are talented, and both sets of coaches expect a battle to the finish.
"I'm expecting an awesome series," Pike County coach Don Hanson said. "I don't know how the games will play out. I'm just expecting close ones."
Wolfe agreed: "I don't think it'll be too high scoring; both teams' pitching is too good for that. My guess is you'll see a lot of 5-3, 5-4 games, something like that. Of course I could be totally wrong; it's hard to tell with high school baseball."
While both teams feature talent up and down the line-up, the most intriguing match-up could be between Buford's pitching staff -- which boasts a team ERA of 1.86 -- and a Pike County offense that features six batters hitting over .400.
"They've got a special offense," Wolfe said of the Pirates. "They've hit like 59 or 60 home runs this season, and they’ve got threats throughout the order."
Hanson says his team is also versatile at the plate.
"We try to incorporate every aspect of the game into what we do -- it just depends on the situation," Hanson said. "We can hit for power, we'll hit-and-run, we'll run the bases; we feel like we can do whatever is necessary to win."
Catcher Chris Long (15 home runs), centerfielder/pitcher Kody Adams and third baseman Nate Ferrell lead the way for a Pike team that is averaging 9.4 runs per game over 10 playoff contests.
"How well we get those guys out will determine a lot of our success in this series," Wolfe said. "We've got to find a way to slow them down because I don't think you can shut them down. We have to accept that we're going to give up runs, and we're going to have to pitch out of trouble. The key is how our kids react to that."
Hanson is just as effusive about the Wolves’ pitching staff -- which features senior starters Josh Heddinger (9-0, 2.08 ERA) and Jake Burnette (7-0, 1.37 ERA), both bound for Georgia Tech, along with junior Sam Clay (7-1, 1.59 ERA).
Clay will get the start in Game 1, as it is his turn in the rotation, while Burnette is set to go in Game 2. Heddinger would get the call in Game 3 – though due to the fact that there is a one-day gap in the series (GHSA rules mandate no games on Sunday), Heddinger could make a relief appearance if necessary on Saturday.
"We could use Josh in short relief as long as we don't overwork him," Wolfe said. "The day off in between changes the mindset a little."
Hanson says no matter who is on the mound for Buford, the going will be tough for opposing batters.
Buford's offense is no slouch either, averaging more than 10 runs per game through its 8-0 playoff run so far.
Troy Herterick paces Buford with a .483 average and 42 hits and is second with 34 RBIs, while Jamie Richie is batting .430 and has 28 RBIs. Mason Gentry has also provided a lot of power for the Wolves this campaign, crushing 10 home runs and leading the team with 35 RBIs. All three are key batters in the middle of the order.
"It's going to be what kind of damage they can create," Wolfe said. "The middle of the order is going to be big for us. But we also have to have contributions from up and down the line-up. You can't have dead innings against a team like Pike County. We're also going to need timely hits."
The Wolves will face a Pirates staff allowing 5.2 runs per game through the postseason. Pike features two starters that Buford faced in last season’s loss in Adams and Lance Shelton.
"They've got very good pitching," Wolfe said. "They did a good job keeping it in the park against us last year and keeping it off the fat part of the bat. If we can just find a way to score five-six runs a game, I feel like we’ll have a real good chance."
Both teams will be focused on the prize this weekend, though both have also had to deal with distractions this week -- though Wolfe believes that may not be such a bad thing.
"We both had graduation this week, so the kids have been busy, and I think it's kept them from just focusing on the game and getting too excited," Wolfe said. "In the next 24-36 hours is when you'll see the energy and focus, and probably some nerves, come out more.
"I just hope our kids can come in and put up the type of performance they're capable of. This team has been a coach’s dream. They're great kids; they're low maintenance, and I've watched them grow since they were a group of sophomores that won just 12 games. I'm really proud of them, and I'd love to see them wrap this thing up with a championship."
-- NOTES: Neither team will be able to draw on any prior experience in the championship round, as Buford is making its first appearance in a title series since finishing second in 1978 -- the Wolves won their lone crown in 1977. Pike County, meanwhile, is making its first trip to the finals, having never advanced past the quarterfinals until this season. ... The Pirates have already defeated two teams from Region 6-AA this postseason, taking out 6-AA runner-up Blessed Trinity in the quarterfinals and Lovett in the semifinals. Buford defeated Blessed Trinity to claim Region 6-AA.
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