'Cats sweep Miller Grove, now two wins away from Columbus

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The Woodland High softball team continued its improbable end-of-season run Wednesday, as the Lady Wildcats upset No. 2-seeded Miller Grove in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.

Woodland, which is less than a month removed from a nine-game losing streak and is starting just one senior and two juniors in its lineup, not only beat a higher-seeded opponent on the road in Round 1, but swept Miller Grove in two convincing wins to move just two games away from Columbus.

“They were excited,” Woodland coach Colman Roberts said of his players after the sweep. “We’ve been talking about this since May when we had tryouts and spring practice. Our goal was to make the state playoffs. Next was to make it to the second round. Now we have a goal to make it to Columbus.”

Woodland won by a score of 5-3 in Game 1 and 11-3 in five innings in Game 2. The Lady ’Cats were only tied once and never trailed after the first inning of either game.

Brittney Cox had seven hits in the series, while Caroline Higdon had a pair of multi-hit games and four RBIs in the series. Skylar Chappell also had a big series with three doubles.

“We had some good at bats. Both their pitchers threw pretty hard. We had some good baserunning throughout the game and had a couple of big innings in Game 2,” Roberts said of the hot bats. “Skyler Chappell, Caroline Higdon, Jordan Duck, Brittney Cox, Bella Carnes, they really hit well today.”

Woodland was without its batting leader for the state-playoff opening series, as sophomore Madgie Robinson was held out of the game after getting hit in the eye during practice Tuesday.

Woodland hopes to have Robinson back when the ’Cats next play on Wednesday against the winner of the Whitewater-Bainbridge series. The winner of that three-game set will move on to the eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Columbus.

While it did not appear Woodland was destined for Columbus for much of the season, Roberts said his players never doubted themselves.

“After that nine-game losing streak, we started playing well,” Roberts said. “I knew we could play with anybody that we played if we cut down on errors and started having more productive at bats. They really have.”

Woodland 5, Miller Grove 3

Woodland had to wait roughly an hour for late umpires to show up and start Game 1 in Lithonia.

Turns out the delay was worth the wait as the Wildcats were able to maintain a narrow lead through seven innings and hold on for the win.

Woodland scored one run in the first inning when Duck doubled, advanced on a passed ball and scored on an error.

The Lady ’Cats would then take a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning when singles by Cox and Jamison Kilgo brought home one run. A passed ball after an error would bring home another.

Miller Grove made it close in the bottom of the fourth, stringing together three consecutive singles to score two runs.

However, Woodland distanced itself in the fifth on a double by Higdon, a single by Cox and a double by Chappell to make the score 5-2.

That would be enough for starter Sarah Baynard, who allowed one run in the sixth, but just three runs for the game on six hits with six strikeouts and one walk.

The difference in the game was the defense, as Miller Grove made five errors to Woodland’s one. The Wildcats scored three unearned runs.

Woodland 11, Miller Grove 3

Defense was once again a factor in Game 2. Miller Grove made seven errors, allowing seven unearned runs to score.

Roberts said he received a late scouting report on Miller Grove and he thought his team could take advantage of bunting opportunities. Woodland would capitalize with a three-run inning in each of the first three innings of the game.

“They really crashed hard when we bunted. Their corners were real up, especially their third baseman,” Roberts said. “I did get a late scouting report on them defensively, and they were vulnerable at third and in the outfield a bit. But they’re not bad at all. Their two pitchers were good, threw hard.”

After Miller Grove scored two runs in the first inning on a double and three singles, Woodland jumped back on top before the first inning came to an end. Two errors, followed by back-to-back doubles by Chappell and Cox gave Woodland a 3-2 lead after one.

Miller Grove scored an unearned run in the second to tie the game, but the Lady ’Cats retook the lead quickly with two more three-run innings to give them nine runs by the end of three frames. Miller Grove made two errors in the second inning, but Woodland also got a hit from Higdon and a couple of walks.

The third three-run frame came in the third inning, highlighted by singles from Kilgo, Duck and Carnes.

Woodland would tack on one more in each the fourth and fifth to end the game on the run rule.

Chappell’s leadoff double turned into a run after a Cox single in the fourth.

In the fifth, Duck, Higdon and Cox all singled to give the game a final of 11-3.