The Woodland softball team made history last week, winning its first-ever region championship. The Wildcats have a chance to make more history next week, as well, by hosting a second-round series in the state playoffs.
For that to happen, though, Woodland first must take care of North Springs in the Class 5A opening round. The best-of-three series is scheduled to start with a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Wednesday and conclude, if necessary, with Game 3 at 5 p.m. Thursday.
However, it’s possible the games get pushed back with a chance of rain in the area today and Thursday. With Hurricane Michael potentially impacting weather across the state, the Georgia High School Association has already extended the deadline for playing first- and second-round contests.
Even still, Woodland head coach Colman Roberts is having his players approach today under the assumption that they will play the scheduled doubleheader.
“We’re good; we’re ready to play,” Roberts said. “We’ll have to battle this rain, of course. I told them, ‘Wake up in the morning like you always do and be prepared to play. Have your mind set where we’re going to play. If it rains, we’ll go indoors and move on.’ I think they’re good. We’re ready to go."
With North Springs (8-10) not having faced any common opponents as Woodland, Roberts doesn’t have a great gauge on the fourth seed out of Region 6-AAAAA.
Instead, Roberts said his team will be successful by just keeping up what his players have been doing. It sounds like coach speak, but it’s hard to argue with that idea given how well Woodland has played recently.
The Wildcats will enter the games, whenever they are ultimately played, on an incredible run. Woodland (22-7) has won 21 of its past 24 games.
Two of those defeats came to Class 7A Lassiter and Class 6A South Paulding — both playoff teams. The only loss to a 5A school during the stretch came in Game 1 of the Region 7-AAAAA championship series when top 10-ranked Carrollton earned an 8-2 win.
Woodland, playing on the road, came back to win the final two games — 9-7 and 5-3 — to win the elusive title and claim a coveted No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
“We’ll have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Roberts said. “Pitching has been solid. We’ve had the bottom of the order hitting here lately. We’ve been productive moving people over. …
“We’ve been in that [No.] 4-spot too. We’ve won there, so that’a the first thing I’ll tell them. Everybody is in the state playoffs now. You have to be prepared to play.”
In the playoffs, many softball teams turn to one pitcher and let them carry the team as far as they can. Woodland won’t follow that strategy, but it would be ill-advised to consider that a weakness.
Roberts said he’ll use senior Sarah Baynard and sophomore Madi Bentley throughout the postseason. He plans to utilize the strategy he used in the region championship series.
“I thought they handled it well, and we’ll go through the playoffs just like that,” Roberts said.
Baynard and Bentley each pitched one game in the doubleheader portion. Roberts then went with Bentley for Game 3, as she had performed better the day before and during her regular-season meeting with Carrollton.
So each should pitch a game against North Springs. Should the young Spartans, who have no seniors and just four juniors listed on their roster, force a winner-take-all scenario, Roberts would likely go with the pitcher who performed better during the doubleheader.
“That’s what I’m going to do,” Roberts said of following the region championship blueprint. “… Both of their pitch counts have been awesome lately. That’s really a plus for Madi. When she has a low pitch count, she’s real good. Both have had rest and thrown a couple of bullpens. They’re going to have to be on in the playoffs.”
Baynard and Bentley were certainly on in the regular season, particularly in region play. Baynard is 12-3 overall and went 8-1 with a 1.12 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in region action. Bentley, meanwhile, has a 5-1 mark in region games, which doesn’t include her two playoff games. She's 8-4 overall with a 3.94 ERA and 1.80 WHIP.
While the pitching has been a two-person show, the hitting has been a complete team-effort. Six starters have an OPS at or above .800, those same six have posted on-base percentages above .390 and five players have hit .347 or higher.
Leadoff hitter Bella Carnes leads Woodland in a lot of categories, including batting average (.440), slugging (.590) and OPS (1.067).
Thanks to her six home runs, which are more than the rest of the team combined, Kendyl Hardin is second in slugging and OPS.
Caroline Higdon is in the midst of a great season, slashing .379/.425/.526 with two home runs, eight doubles, 33 RBIs and 26 runs scored. Her doubles and RBIs lead the Wildcats.
Even though she hit ninth in the team’s most recent game, Skylar Chappell leads Woodland in on-base percentage at .484. She’s hitting .347 but has boosted her efficiency by drawing the most walks (12) and being hit by the most pitches (7) on the team.
Needless to say, the entire Woodland lineup has consistently produced with an overall triple-slash line of .335/.390/.448. It gives Roberts and his players solace knowing that not everyone needs to perform at their highest level every game.
“It’s been like that all year,” Roberts said. “We have different kids that show up every night stats-wise. …
“Pitching is going to get tougher and tougher as we go, so we’ve just got to stay focused and preach productive hitting.”
If the hitting and pitching stay on track and lead to two wins over North Springs, Woodland would host the winner of No. 2 seed Buford and third-seeded Southwest DeKalb.
While Roberts doesn’t want to spend too much time looking ahead to a potential scenario, he admitted that he likes not having to play away from home until a potential trip later this month to Columbus for the championship tournament.
“This would be the first time we’ve ever hosted the second round, if we get past North Springs,” Roberts said. “I’m real excited, because I drive the bus. Coach (Jonathan) Cannon and I are the bus drivers, so we’re pretty excited about being at home.”