Woodland softball takes down Cartersville in rivalry game

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It's rare that coaches from both teams talk about learning the same lesson from a specific game, but that was the case following a local softball game Thursday.

Woodland's Colman Roberts and Cartersville's Shannon Suarez each discussed the importance of playing a full, seven-inning game following a 10-6 home win for the Wildcats in the Bartow County rivalry tilt.

Roberts was upset with how his team started the game. Cartersville (2-3) came out with a three-spot in the top of the first inning, and despite Woodland (2-1) answering right back with a trio of runs in the home half, bad baserunning had Roberts fuming between innings.

"It's early," he said. "There's a lot of things we need to work on, have to get the kinks out. That's my job when they're not focused, and I got a little upset after that first inning. They got focused.

"You have to compete seven innings, especially against a team like Cartersville. They're well coached, and they have a lot of good players on that team."

Suarez, meanwhile, was disappointed to see her team quickly cough up the lead. But things went from bad to worse for the Canes, when they let the Wildcats strike for four runs in the second inning and practically gifted them three more on a Little League home run in the fourth.

Cartersville tried to put together a late comeback. The Canes staged a two-out rally in the sixth, scoring three runs to pull within 10-6, but that was as close as Cartersville would get.

"We just got complacent early on, and it's too soon in the first inning," Suarez said. "I'm proud of them to come out and put three runs on the board early, but you can't sit on that. You get comfortable, and then you become inconsistent with things. ...

"We learned a lesson today that it takes a full seven [innings]. If it came down to [just] the last two innings, we win the game. But those four innings in between hurt us. It's a lesson to stay in the game not only mentally but also physically. We need all 15 girls in the game. We fell asleep."

Woodland pitcher Lainey Baker didn't fall asleep. Although, she deserved a quick dugout nap.

The sophomore tossed her third complete game of the week after going the distance against East Paulding Monday and Carrollton Tuesday. Her fatigue was evident and understandable, as she allowed nine hits and four walks.

"I thought Lainey got tired," Roberts said. "She's had a heavy workload this week. That won't be the usual. She'll throw the majority of our games, but we have two other pitchers who are going to throw some."

Baker still showed her high upside with eight strikeouts. Of the six runs she allowed, only the three first-inning runs were earned.

"I'm very proud of her," Roberts said. "I thought she looked good. She doesn't get too high, and she doesn't get low. She's calm the whole game. We've had kids here who get frustrated, when [the defense] makes a few errors. I don't think she does.

"She just a sophomore. Her better days are yet to come. She's really improved this year."

Cartersville's offense was led by seniors Hope Short and Lauren McElhaney, who each finished 3-for-4. Short scored twice and drove in a run, while McElhaney had one run scored and three driven in.

"More girls are buying into the approach that we're talking about, getting themselves into hitter's counts, trusting themselves a little bit more and knowing the situation," Suarez said of what led to the solid offensive showing.

McElhaney brought home the day's first run by singling in Short, who had singled to open the game. Ava Perkins and Mattie Johnson drew consecutive bases-loaded walks later in the first inning to help the cause.

"First inning, there was no focus whatsoever," Roberts said. "They're a good team. I like their lineup. They're good, and they battle.

"We've got to clean up the errors. I thought Lainey stayed on the field a lot more than she should have. ... She's thrown three games this week. They have to be behind her."

Woodland had three players post two-hit games. Bella Carnes went 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored; Hannah Miller wound up 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs; and Kendyl Hardin was 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and three RBIs.

Ansley Evans put together a 1-for-2 day at the plate, complete with a walk, two runs scored and two RBIs. Morgan Bailey finished 1-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI.

In the bottom of the first, Evans singled home Carnes before Hardin's two-run knock. Bailey's bases-loaded hit gave Woodland the lead in the home half of the second. Evans followed with a sacrifice fly before Miller roped a clutch, two-run hit.

Hardin's RBI single to center in the fourth to score Evans preceded two Cartersville errors on the play. The first allowed  Miller to scamper home, and the second let Hardin race completely around the bases for a 10-3 lead.

A two-out error on a bunt by Elizabeth Nelson opened the door for the Canes in the sixth. Short followed with a run-scoring double. McElhaney sent a two-RBI double into the gap to score Short and Campbell Rogers, who had singled.

McKinley Chada picked up a hit before Baker coaxed a groundout to avoid further damage. Baker then worked around a one-out walk in the seventh to close out a game that both coaches will hope served as a wakeup call moving forward.

Sure, it's still early in the season, but region play is already here. Each team has played two league games. Looking ahead, Cartersville heads to Troup County for a Region 5-AAAA doubleheader Saturday, and Woodland faces Kell and Cass in Region 7-AAAAA play next week.

"We learn from games like this to make us better in region," Suarez said. "That's why I like playing quality teams like Woodland. They're going to make us better in the long run."