Woodland softball secures No. 3 seed for state playoffs

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In Friday night’s home game against Kell, Woodland pitcher Lainey Baker was maybe only half as dominant as she was Thursday, when she helped secure the Wildcats a berth in the Class 5A state playoffs. But her offense was twice as nice Friday, allowing Woodland to ease to an 8-0, six-inning win to lock up Region 7-AAAAA’s No. 3 seed.

Thanks to a 4-0 triumph over Hiram the night before, the Wildcats (19-10) needed to beat the Longhorns (13-17) just one time to win the region tournament. (Carrollton swept East Paulding in the separate region championship series, which decided the league’s top two seeds.) Had Kell, which will be a No. 4 seed in the upcoming state tournament, beaten Woodland Friday, the two teams would have faced off again Saturday in a winner-take-all game.

That proved unnecessary, as the Wildcats used a four-run first inning to sprint to a 10th straight win. Kendyl Hardin got Woodland off to a hot start, launching a two-run home run to open the scoring. Morgan Cooper scored on an error for the team’s third run of the frame, and Brianna Hill’s RBI single capped the outburst.

The Wildcats extended the lead to 5-0 in the second inning. Allyssa Motes led off with a single, and Bella Carnes followed with a run-scoring triple.

Motes also opened the bottom of the fourth with a hit, and a pair of walks loaded the bases with no outs. Ansley Evans came through with a single to score Motes, and an error on the play allowed Carnes to come home, as well.

Kell managed three hits and three walks against Baker, who had six strikeouts. While it was a far cry from her remarkable Thursday performance that included 16 strikeouts against just two hits and one walk, she still managed to keep the Longhorns off the scoreboard.

Baker got some major help from her defense in the sixth inning to preserve the shutout. Following a two-out double, Kell sent a single to left field only to see Hannah Miller throw a runner out at home.

Boosted by the thrilling defensive play, Woodland pushed across the single tally needed to invoke the run rule in the home half. With the bases loaded and two outs, catcher Kailey Baker singled home Evans for the walk-off run.

Every Woodland starter, save for one, had at least one hit. Carnes led the way, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI. Motes wound up 2-for-3 with a pair of runs. Kailey Baker also had two hits, while Morgan Bailey reached on a hit and a walk. Bailey, Evans, Hardin and Cooper had a hit and a run each.

Woodland will now head to Region 5-AAAAA runner-up Chamblee for a best-of-three series. The teams will meet in a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m. Tuesday with Game 3, if needed, set for 4 p.m. Wednesday. The winner of the first-round matchup will face either Region 3-AAAAA champion Whitewater or Bainbridge, Region 1-AAAAA’s No. 4 seed, for a spot in the state tournament at Columbus.