RANDY PARKER/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS

Wildcats sweep Spartans to reach 2nd round of state

Through three innings, it appeared as though Woodland might face a stiff challenge in its opening-round series against North Springs in the Class 5A state playoffs.

That feeling evaporated as soon as Kendyl Hardin’s two-run triple in the bottom of the fourth nestled up against the fence Thursday evening at Wildcat Field. The key hit spurred Woodland to an 8-0, five-inning win in Game 1 of the doubleheader.

Any thought the Wildcats would follow up that run-rule victory with a dud in Game 2 went out the window with Hardin’s three-run double in the top of the first. The knock kicked off a 9-1, five-inning win to complete the sweep.

The comprehensive triumphs by No. 1-seeded Woodland (24-7) guarantees the Wildcats at least two more home games next week. Either second seed Buford or No. 3 seed Southwest DeKalb will be Woodland’s second-round opponent.

With a spot in Columbus for the Elite Eight on the line, Woodland coach Colman Roberts knows his team will need to get off to a better start in next week’s best-of-three series. While Buford and SW DeKalb are set to play today with Game 3, if needed, on Saturday, Roberts already has advanced the Wolves in his bracket.

“No excuses whatsoever, I don’t believe in any of that,” Roberts said of his team’s slow start in Game 1 Thursday. “We need to come ready to play. I don’t believe in being nervous. My gosh, we’re in the state playoffs, why would we be nervous? But we came back. It is what it is. We have to be a lot better next week against Buford.”

Early on, Game 1 appeared set to be a pitchers’ duel between Woodland’s Sarah Baynard and North Springs’ Caroline Bernstein.

A one-out hit-by-pitch in the first and a leadoff single in the fifth were the only blemishes on Baynard’s statline. The senior remarkably needed just 36 pitches to record the complete-game shutout. All three of her strikeouts came in the second inning when she threw a game-high 11 pitches.

Bernstein, to her credit, kept Woodland off balance through three frames. Things changed in a hurry in the fourth.

Caroline Higdon, who finished 6-for-6 on the day with five runs scored and an RBI, led off the frame with a single. An error on Jordan Duck’s bunt put runners on the corners with nobody out.

That’s when Hardin came through with her first big hit. Hannah Miller followed with a sacrifice fly to bring home Hardin for a 3-0 lead.

With nobody on base, Skylar Chappell was hit by a pitch to start another rally. Courtesy-runner Allyssa Motes advanced on a groundout and scored on Bella Carnes’ single through a drawn-in infield.

Another four-run frame was enough for Woodland to walk off in the home half of the fifth. Ansley Evans started it off with a triple and Higdon doubled her home. Duck walked and Hardin capped her stellar game with an RBI single.

Duck scored on a wild pitch and Miller’s second sac fly to score Hardin ended the contest.

In Game 2, Madi Bentley picked up where Baynard left off for the Wildcats. The sophomore allowed a single run on three hits with no walks and two strikeouts. She needed just 62 pitches to complete her five innings.

“I thought they pitched well,” Roberts said of his two hurlers. “Pitch counts were down, got a lot of groundballs and we played good ‘D’. That’s what we’ve got to do. I thought they did well, Madi and Sarah.”

There was no slow start for the Woodland bats this time around.

After a bullet lineout from Carnes to start the game, Morgan Bailey singled, Evans walked and Higdon singled to load the bases. With two outs, Hardin cleared them on her double. Overall, she finished the day 5-for-7 with three runs scored and six RBIs.

The Wildcats’ two Morgans teamed up to produce Woodland’s fourth run. With one out in the second, Morgan Cooper was hit by a pitch, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. Morgan Bailey brought her home with her second hit of the game.

Higdon and Hardin singled to put runners on the corners in the third. An error on a two-out flyball should have scored two, but Hardin forgot how many outs there were, allowing only Higdon to score on the miscue. Carnes, who had three hits on the day, picked up her teammate with an run-scoring single for a 6-0 edge.

North Springs (8-12) scored its only run of the doubleheader on a two-out single in the bottom of the third. The Spartans couldn’t maintain momentum, though, as the Wildcats answered with three runs in their next at bat.

It helped that North Springs walked Bailey, Evans and Higdon to begin the inning. Duck hit a sac fly, and Miller came through with a patented two-run double. It’s become a standard thing for Miller, who had a pair of them in extra innings to help Woodland win Game 3 of the Region 7-AAAAA championship series last week at Carrollton.

Since winning the program’s first region title on Oct. 3, Woodland hadn’t played a competitive game until Thursday. Roberts brushed it off as an excuse. He also balked at the idea that a team that typically feasts on harder-throwing pitchers should be allowed some time to adjust to North Springs’ softer tossers.

He did express gratefulness for the schedule, which involved the first-round doubleheader being pushed back a day due to rain, working in his team’s favor ahead of next week’s second round.

“Good thing about playing late, in my opinion, we don’t have to wait long. We only have to practice three times, and then be ready to play,” Roberts said. “That’s going to be big for us. We’ll come back to work [Friday]. We have a lot of stuff to do.”

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Woodland girls XC finishes 4th as Trapheagen sets another PR

Just one week after setting a personal best in Cary, North Carolina, Woodland junior McKenna Trapheagen beat her fastest-ever cross country time Saturday in the Coach Wood Invitational at McIntosh Nature Preserve.

Trapheagen placed fourth individually in a blistering 17:59.08. The 5k mark was more than 19 seconds faster than she ran the Great American Cross Country Festival the previous Saturday.

Thanks in large part to Trapheagen, Woodland finished fourth as a team in the highly competitive championship event. The only teams to top the Wildcats were some of the state’s best — Marist, Marietta and South Forsyth.

Woodland’s five scorers all placed in the top 67. Tess Cochran finished 22nd in 19 minutes, 7.33 seconds; Rylee Evans crossed in 19 minutes, 40.44 seconds, good enough for 42nd; Baylee Evans (19:47.59) was just over seven seconds back in 54th; and Carli Clymer rounded out the scoring in just under 20 minutes.

Although her time didn’t count for the team score, Cheyenne Spinks (20:20.55) placed a more-than-solid 79th out of 282 runners.

Some members of the Woodland JV squad — Erica Boatner (135th, 21:11.11), Marlee Bowles (155th, 21:24.43), Avery Hull (217th, 22:09.03) and Mackenzie Stephenson (248th, 23:04.97) — posted good showings, as well.

Woodland’s boys placed fifth in the varsity race. John Shropshire was just outside the top 10 in 12th, crossing in 17 minutes, 7.88 seconds. He finished a little over two seconds behind the seventh-place runner.

Dylan Stermer also shined, placing 20th in 17 minutes, 29.77 seconds; John Forsyth finished 35th in just under 18 minutes; Patrick Bollwerk (18:32.03) came in 65th; and Kobe Cochran (18:35.71) completed the Wildcats’ scores with a 70th-place finish.

Reece Mitchell finished just inside the top 100 in the 215-person race. His 19 minute, 3.55 second time was good enough for 99th.

As with the girls race, Woodland had several JV runners compete in Gabe Shephard (106th, 19:10.11), Ian Van Order (112th, 19:18.33), McKinley Chappell (124th, 19:33.03) and Pierre Brunet (169th, 20:29.93).

Meanwhile, Cartersville’s cross country teams competed in the Atlanta Classic at Clinton Farms hosted by Chapel Hill. The boys finished sixth, while the girls wound up 13th.

Sophomore Bill Archer paced the Canes with his seventh-place finish. Archer finished the race in 16 minutes, 41.10 seconds. Rapidly improving freshman Alex Rios wasn’t far behind, crossing in 16:55.68 — good enough for 15th.

Max Florence was 46th in a time of 17 minutes, 41.72 seconds. In 56th was Parker Breedlove, who ran the course in 17 minutes, 48.24 seconds. Jacob Busek (18:15.61) completed the day for Cartersville, placing 74th out of 179 runners.

On the girls side, Alex Machado produced a 37th-place showing. The sophomore completed the race in 21 minutes, 25.61 seconds. Vanna Beach (22:08.80) and Trista Kelly (22:12.16) were nearly back-to-back, finishing 70th and 72nd, respectively.

Alice Terry (22:34.48) wasn’t too far behind Beach and Kelly in 79th. Trinity Atkins (117th, 24:03.34), Metztli Munoz (123rd, 24:18.76) and Jocelyn Blanchette (124th, 24:19.70) rounded out the Cartersville runners.

Elsewhere, Cass junior Olivia Flynn competed in the Pickens Invitational, finishing 84th out of 188 runners in 22 minutes, 41.2 seconds.