BUFORD — Buford found itself a strike away from sweeping Brookwood in the GHSA 7A quarterfinals Monday.

The Wolves could taste it. They readied to celebrate on the top step of the dugout. A horde of Buford athletes and students stood on the bleachers and yelled at the opposing players in anticipation.

The most-heartbreaking result followed.

Brookwood’s Alex Reyes hit a pop fly toward first baseman Nate Taylor. The rising fly ball landed in the middle of multiple Wolves’ players as they all converged. Brookwood’s Boomer Rogozinski — who misplayed a throw from Reyes in the half-inning prior to allow Buford to score the go-ahead run — scored and gave the Broncos new life.

“I guess we misread it. That’s the game of baseball,” Buford head coach Stuart Chester said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault, but one of those things that bit us. That’s one play. We had all of the opportunities with baserunners on. It was a culmination of a lot of things that beat us, and (Brookwood) capitalizing on the opportunities they got.”

Brookwood, as the “home team” in the second game, senior Jay Bueno hit a walk-off single in the 12th inning to score designated hitter VJ Heath. Buford sophomore reliever Aydin Lockett allowed the run after throwing a dart from right field to throw out a Bronco runner at third base in the inning prior.

With the walk-off, Brookwood beat Buford, 4-3, in a late-night thriller. Buford won the opener, 3-0.

“These are two good programs getting after it,” Chester said. “It’s a game of opportunities, and we had every one of them. That’s the way baseball goes.”

Twice in the final game of the twin-bill, Buford had a runner on third base with nobody out. Madden Young tripled to open the 10th inning. Brookwood power reliever Clinton Harris struck out Taylor, forced a popout from Ethan Murray and struck out Caleb Griffin to escape the jam.

In the 12th inning, Cam Wood hit a leadoff single, then advanced to third on a stolen base and wild pitch. Aside from an intentional walk of Taylor wedged between the plays, Young, Lockett and Murray struck out in succession.

” When you don’t capitalize on opportunities you get, a good baseball team will get you,” Chester said.

All the while, Damian Brown emerged as the star for Buford in the split. He recorded the save in the opener, then led the way on the mound in the finale. He held Brookwood at bay, despite the unearned run on the missed pop fly, with 13 strikeouts in six innings pitched. Through the last two playoff series, Brown has thrown 10 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

Brown is likely unavailable for Tuesday’s win-or-go-home game.

“He came in and did a great job,” Chester said. “That speaks to him and his ability.”

Taylor, Buford’s pitching ace, rebounded from a shaky start against West Forsyth. He struck out 13 batters in six scoreless innings. He struck out seven of the first eight Brookwood batters.

“That was the old Nate. He was a little off the last series, but he was on (Monday),” Chester said. “The results speak for themselves. He’s a lot of starts like that. He’s done that quite a few time.”

Buford and Brookwood conclude the three-game series Tuesday at Gerald McQuaig Field. First pitch is set for 5:55 p.m. The winner of the final game advances to the GHSA 7A semifinals and becomes a step closer toward a state championship appearance.

Chester did not name a starting pitcher.

“When we start in January and all of the tournaments we go to, we try to work for a three-game series,” Chester said. “If you’re going to go deep into the playoffs, you’re going to have to go through a three game series. That’s where we’re at.”

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