ATHENS — Loganville High School baseball inserted itself back into the upper echelon of Georgia’s dynastic baseball programs with its fourth state title in the 2017 Class AAAAA state championship series.
The 2017 baseball title was Loganville’s first since winning a Class AAAA championship in 2012. The program’s first was in 2008. The Red Devils seem say they were here to stay after sweeping Buford High School at Foley Field on the University of Georgia campus.
Game 1 was a 13-3 run-ruling in five innings, and the Red Devils edged the Wolves 3-2 in Game 2, despite being held scoreless through the final five innings.
Loganville completed a season sweep of the Wolves, which started with back-to-back wins in mid-April to clinch a region championship and ended with back-to-back wins Monday night for the state title. But Monday night was almost certainly not the end of Buford and Loganville’s rivalry. Of the 11 different players that started both games for Loganville, only four — including both starting pitchers — were seniors.
Stuart Chester finished his first season as Buford’s head coach at 28-13.
“We were a couple runs from getting it to three games,” Chester said. “I told them, ‘This is a learning experience. Baseball and life parallel each other, and you’re going to be knocked down in life a lot harder than you were knocked down tonight. The 2019 season starts tomorrow.’”
As poor as Buford’s Game 1 seemed, it got off to an optimistic start. Evan Place and Noah Ledford reached base with one out in consecutive at-bats, a walk and hit-by-pitch. Both scored to put Buford up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, Place on an RBI single from Reese McIntyre and Ledford on an RBI single off the bat of Garrison Price.
Four errors through the first four innings cost the Wolves six unearned runs and buried them 8-2 after three innings.
Loganville also accepted six free passes through the first three innings. After one scoreless defensive inning in the fourth, three Buford pitchers combined to allow eight Loganville batters to reach base on three hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
Game 1 starter Ramsey David suffered from a blister that broke open in the middle of game, Chester said.
“In the second inning, it was bleeding,” Chester said. “It was on his thumb, which was a bad place to have it. It messed with his location. But that’s baseball. We pushed him as long as he could go, and I don’t see how he went as long as he did.”
In total, Loganville drew 10 walks in Game 1. Six of those walks resulted in Red Devil runs, while two were stranded on base in the fifth inning when Loganville extended its lead to 10 runs.
Buford catcher Pat Walker had two of Buford’s five hits, a leadoff double in the second inning and a one-out triple in the fourth that resulted in a run.
Buford stranded seven runners on base, including five in scoring position.
Loganville’s Bryant Pietri reached base in all four of his Game 1 at-bats on three walks and one single. His first at-bat in Game 2 sparked fireworks. After a one-out walk put Joseph Brandon on first, Pietri drove a pitch from Buford’s left-handed starter Sean Adams deep to left field and put the Red Devils up 2-0 in the top of the first inning.
Down 3-0 in the bottom of the second, Garrison Price drove in Ledford on a single after the Wolves’ first baseman reach when he was hit by a pitch. McIntyre scored from second when a throwing error ruined a potential inning-ending double play for Loganville.
Loganville starter Seth Clark got all but one out for Loganville, struck out seven Wolves batters and allowed three hits to Garrison Price, Place and Grant James. All three were singles.
While Buford’s offense struggled to figure out Clark, its pitchers and defense clung to a one-run deficit.
Buford’s Game 2 starter, Adams, pitched his first scoreless inning in the third when he recovered from a leadoff walk with a double play, followed by his third strikeout of the game. Adams retired two batters in the fourth while a Loganville runner stood on third base. Griffin Bonner entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs before he fell behind Brandon Joseph 3-0. He executed three critical pitches and kept the Red Devils insurance runs from scoring. Bonner threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks before he was lifted in the seventh.
Buford’s fifth inning featured three defensive highlights. Austin Turner saved a leadoff double by tracking a deep fly ball off the bat of Loganville’s Bay Witcher to the center-field fence. Left fielder Place ran into foul ground to catch the second out, and Walker threw out Tanner Green trying to steal second.
Chester didn’t hesitate to turn to C.J. Couch when Loganville’s Dylan Strickland led off the seventh with a single. Loganville had advanced two runners in scoring position by the time Couch got two outs, but Couch stranded both on a flare to left field.
In contrast to Game 1, there was no hesitation to go to the bullpen in Game 2.
“We were going to use every gun we had,” Chester said. “For Bonner and C.J. to come in — and Sean was not sharp, but sharp enough — for Bonner to come in like he did … in that second game it was no holds barred.”
With the exception of the right-field bleachers, the Foley Field grandstands appeared to be at complete capacity for the first of two state championship series this week. Foley Field’s capacity is 3,291 seats, and the stadium will host Games 1 and 2 of the Class AAAAAAA state championship series between Parkview and Mill Creek on Tuesday night.
Chester admits he was skeptical regarding the neutral-site venue before Monday night’s packed grandstands changed his mind. The ballpark might have turned a few Buford home runs into fly balls, but it certainly did the same to Loganville. Chester has been involved in eight other state championship series prior to coming to Buford.
“High school field we probably scored a few more runs,” Chester said. “I don’t know if there’s a high school in the country that holds what this place held tonight. … It’s special to play on a high school field, but this might have won me over tonight.”