Buford shortstop Ethan Murray had his eyes fixated on the baseball as it trickled toward him off of Collins Hill shortstop Jayden Nuñez’s bat. He could sense it.

Seconds later, he flipped it over to second baseman Blake Russell who touched the bag to seal a 7-2 win Friday in a make-up game at Collins Hill.

Buford did it — a region championship for the fourth-consecutive year, this time in region 8-7A. The Wolves (20-8-1, 14-1 8-7A) won their 24th region title in program history. They’ll begin the GHSA state playoffs Thursday, April 25 as a No. 1 seed and a host school. 

“At Buford, we strive to leave a legacy,” Russell told The North Gwinnett Voice. “We want to follow the paths that players before us have left. I feel like we did a great job of that as a group this year.”

The same player who caught the final out, Russell, paced Buford offensively and has started a hot streak with four hits in his last five at-bats. Russell went 2-for-2 against Collins Hill with two walks, two stolen bases and a home run resulting in his lone RBI. He was also caught stealing.

Courtesy of Natasha Zagrodnik

Russell followed up a performance Thursday in which he was 2-for-3 in a win over Dacula at Gerald McQuaig Field. In his previous four games, Russell was 2-for-11 (.182).

“My confidence was a big key to tonight’s performance,” Russell said. “I always try to make sure not to think too much and attack, which helps my approach as well.

“I have wonderful teammates who always believe in each other. It really helps as a player to have that connection.” 

Along with Russell, Buford scored five runs in the fourth inning. Murray had a leadoff hit, and junior catcher Parks Cleveland drove in Murray with a bases-loaded single. 

Sophomore Kyle Krause (3-1) earned the win after allowing four hits and two runs with six strikeouts in 6 ⅓ innings. Collins Hill senior Sam Schwark recorded a losing decision with six hits, six earned runs and three walks in 3 ⅓ innings. 

Buford will face Kennesaw Mountain, the No. 4 seed in region 5-7A in the opening round of postseason play. Collins Hill finished as the fifth-ranked team in region 8-7A and did not make the playoffs.

The Wolves’ next benchmark is clear — a chance at a trophy. Buford is in search of its first title since 2015 and the first under head coach Stuart Chester.

“We are pretty prepared as a whole,” Russell said. “The main goal would be to win a state title and that has been the goal since February. Right now, we have our minds set on winning day-by-day and not looking too far ahead.”

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