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.”