The Wildcats overcame a two-run deficit and led by four runs going into the fifth inning, but South Forsyth erased their lead and went on to win 7-6 to sew up the second seed in the region.
Although they had already clinched a berth in the state playoffs, the War Eagles faced the possibility of sliding down to No. 4 in the region and having to travel in the first round. They now get to welcome someone else to their place for the start of the state playoffs.
"I told the boys we've worked so hard the last 25 games to get ourselves in the playoffs. Now, we've got one thing left and if we could bust it for the last 25, there's no reason we couldn't put everything into that we had for this 26th, to give ourselves a chance to play at home in the postseason," South Forsyth coach Russ Bayer said. "I thought they came out great early. We were attacking. We got on the board right away. Then we definitely got hit with some adversity. ... They jumped out and it hurt, but the thing that I was proudest the most about them is they didn't lose focus of what we were really shooting for. They never let up. We kept chipping away and ended up taking that lead."
After the War Eagles loaded the bases in the first to score their first run, Woodland took its turn with the based loaded in the bottom of the fourth as South Forsyth starter Micah Dunn gave up a hit to Camden McGill and then plunked Hunter Siniard near his shoulder blade. After the War Eagles' first baseman took a bit too long surveying the bases on Robert Harris' infield single, the Wildcats had the bases juiced.
Tyler Stringer's hit to right scored one run, Mason Robinson's double to the right-field wall brought home two, and Dalton Martin's squeeze bunt plated another. Jordan Osteen's two-run hit made it 6-2 Woodland after four innings.
Zach McCrum's two-run homer to right-center field pulled South Forsyth within two in the fifth, and an extra out in the sixth allowed the War Eagles to take the lead.
With two outs, South Forsyth's Jesse Gonzalez hit a ball to the shortstop. The ensuing throw sailed over the first baseman's head and Gonzalez wound up on second base. Devin Gearhart drove in Gonzalez with an RBI double and Dunn had another run-scoring hit before miscommunication in the Wildcat outfield allowed McCrum's flyball to fall in left as two Woodland outfielders dove unsuccessfully for the out. The War Eagles took a 7-6 lead.
Wildcats coach Corey Gochee pointed to the top of the sixth as the inning where it all went wrong for his team.
"Nobody on, two outs ... and it turns into a three-run inning. That's the difference," Gochee said. "I thought we played well enough to win, minus that one inning. We didn't do a whole lot at the plate except for the inning we scored six runs."
McCrum recorded four straight outs to bridge the sixth and seventh innings before surrendering a one-out, bloop single to Braden Harris in the bottom of the last inning. McGill advanced Harris to second with a grounder to first and Siniard walked to give Woodland two base runners, but McCrum ended the night with his fourth strikeout of the game.
McCrum earned the win after throwing four innings, allowing three hits and one walk with no earned runs.
Martin took the hard-luck loss following his two-inning, three-strikeout performance. He gave up two earned runs on three hits and one walk.
Robert Harris started out the night for Woodland and initially struggled to hit the strike zone as he walked two of the first three guys he faced, loading the bases.
Despite that, Harris allowed just one run in the top of the first -- on McCrum's RBI single -- as he retired the last three batters, including two on strikeouts.
The Wildcats had potential game-tying runs on base twice in the third after breaking up Dunn's no-hit bid with singles from Jordan Osteen and Braden Harris. South Forsyth's catcher Nate Smith threw out pinch runner Justin Allen and Dunn later picked off Harris to end the inning.
For the second time in four innings, Robert Harris walked the leadoff hitter in the fourth and the War Eagles capitalized, with C.J. Kream doubling to left field to score Andrew Cooley.
Woodland, however, would surmount that early deficit to grab the edge, but it couldn't quite hold on.
Robert Harris (RBI), Osteen and Braden Harris led the Wildcats with a pair of hits while McGill, Stringer (RBI) and Robinson (two RBIs, double) also reached base via hit.
Hitters for South Forsyth were Gearhart, 2 for 3 (RBI, double, walk); Dunn, 1 for 3 (RBI, walk); McCrum, 3 for 4 (three RBIs, home run); Smith, 1 for 3 (walk); and Kream, 1 for 4 (RBI, double).
Woodland finishes its season 13-13 overall, 10-10 in the region. The War Eagles are 18-8 overall and 14-6 in the region. They are slated to host the third seed out of Region 8 in a best-of-three series next Friday.
The Wildcats began the season dreaming of a return trip to the state playoffs but finished a couple games out of the fourth and final spot.
"We wanted to get back. Obviously, everybody's expectations going in are higher than 13-13, just .500. Everybody has goals to make it in the playoffs," Gochee acknowledged.
The Woodland coach had hoped to have his team at least go out with a victory in its final game of the year, especially for players like Robert Harris, Brack Bagwell, Martin and Osteen -- seniors who were suiting up for the last time as preps.
"We came out, like I said, wanting to send our guys out on a winning note against a very good ballclub, a team that comes out of our region being a 2-seed. You know, you gotta play well and you gotta put all facets of the game together," Gochee said. "Our game tonight is sort of the story of our season. We're just sort of riding this rollercoaster. I mean, a lot of it's gonna sit on my shoulders. I gotta figure out a way to get these guys motivated so we're more consistent. I think that's the bottom line.
"Baseball's a game of momentum, anywhere you look -- especially high school baseball -- so that's the key. We grabbed the momentum and then we let 'em back in."
As for his four seniors, the Woodland coach knows it won't be easy to replace what they've contributed to the program.
"They're a great group of guys. Every one of 'em comes out, does exactly what you ask of 'em, day in, day out," Gochee said. "You look at Brack who's as solid as they come defensively. You got Robert who's a great athlete, whether he's on the mound or at the plate. You got Osteen who has been behind the plate, basically, since his sophomore year. An injury to a senior and he ends up basically catching every region game for us as a sophomore -- and did well as a sophomore. He's a great catch-and-throw guy behind the plate. And you got Dalton who has gobbled up innings. I mean, he has the record for most appearances for us after throwing tonight. He does his job. He gets up there and throws strikes, and he's come on late at the plate with a lot of bunts for base hits. Being a left-handed hitter, he's two steps closer.
"Moving forward, I think there are seven juniors that will be seniors for us next year. There's gonna be a lot of expectations. We're gonna have to step it up in the fall, or the summer and the fall, and really put the workload on 'em. You can't continue to do the same thing in the offseason and expect different results," he continued. "I like the group that's coming back, but we'll have a lot of innings, here again, on the mound to replace, especially with Dalton and Robert [leaving]. And, we're gonna have a big defensive hole at third base and behind the plate. ... Guys are gonna have to grow up and I said that last year, and I thought some guys filled the holes pretty well -- but last year we made the playoffs, this year we didn't, so [we] gotta have more."