As a pitcher, there are hard-luck losses, and then there's what happened to Lainey Baker on Tuesday.
The Woodland hurler deserves some sort of commendation after pitching seven innings for the second straight sweltering day. More than that though, the junior, who is listed on the Wildcats roster as a shortstop, threw a phenomenal game against perennial powerhouse Carrollton.
Baker gave up just one earned run but saw her defense and hitters let her down in a 3-1 home defeat that served as a rematch of last year's Region 7-AAAAA championship series.
"She pitched great," Woodland head coach Colman Roberts said of Baker. "We had a lot of routine plays we didn't make. That's how they scored that first run. She looked good. I don't think she had any walks."
The right-handed Baker came out strong, striking out the side in the first inning. She worked the edges of the strike zone and rarely allowed hard contact. Remember, this came 24 hours after she struck out six against zero walks in a 6-3 victory over East Paulding in Woodland's season opener on another sun-baked afternoon.
The Trojans (4-0, 1-0) scored an unearned run in the top of the second on a two-out error. They broke a longstanding, 1-1 deadlock in the sixth, when they were aided by another defensive miscue. By the seventh inning, Baker was running on fumes, and Carrollton managed to push across an insurance run.
Even with the defensive mistakes, Woodland (1-1, 1-1) had more than enough chances at the plate to make up for them. The Wildcats, who host rival Cartersville on Thursday, stranded nine runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings.
"We hit all summer," Roberts said of his offense, which only had three hits in Monday's win. "I'm not really worried about that. We faced good pitching [Monday] night, too. East Paulding is a good team. We had a lot of things go our way [Monday], lucky in a lot of ways. I think that's going to come around."
Woodland's only run came on a long solo home run by Morgan Cooper in the second inning. The junior sent a towering flyball well beyond the center-field fence to quickly knot the game at 1-apiece.
Despite threatening in almost every subsequent inning, the Wildcats drew plenty of walks but never could get the key hit off Trojans ace Olivia Fannin. The two-time defending region pitcher of the year bent but never broke in a complete-game effort.
Even with the loss, Woodland is in a better position than they were last season, at this point. The Wildcats actually dropped their first two region contests in 2018 before winning 14 straight in the league. Woodland went to Carrollton for the region championship series and won two out of three games.
The Trojans got a measure of revenge Tuesday, but the Wildcats will see them at least once more this year — and possibly a few more times after that. In any subsequent meeting, Woodland will have to be more fundamentally sound if it wants to end up on the winning side.
Roberts will certainly get that message across to his team.
"We just have to make the routine plays and mix in a toughie here and there, especially when we've got good pitching," he said. "... We'll come back, go to work tomorrow and fix some things. They'll be willing to work. They know what they did wrong and hopefully fix it."