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Woodland softball staves off elimination, reaches Final 4

The Daily Tribune News

Woodland held off a strong charge from Calhoun and then routed the defending Class 5A champion to live to fight another day at the state tournament in Columbus.

The Wildcats held a 5-2 lead over their Region 7-5A rival but had to sweat out the final couple of innings in a 5-4 victory Friday afternoon. Woodland came back later that night to gain revenge over Jones County, which ended the Wildcats’ 2020 season, in an 11-0, five-inning triumph.

In Friday’s first game, Calhoun (21-15) plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and left the tying run at second base. In the seventh, the Yellow Jackets had the potential tying run at third and the potential winning run at second before Wildcats ace Lainey Baker produced a game-ending strikeout.

The game saw plenty of early scoring, with Woodland pushing across all five of its runs in the opening three frames. Calhoun, meanwhile, put up single tallies in each of the first two innings.

Jordan Hammonds opened the scoring by racing home on a passed ball in the top of the first. The Jackets answered right back with a solo homer by Espee Reyes to lead off the home half.

Alana Carnes singled home a run and Cassie Jones doubled in a pair during the second inning for Woodland, which finished a game behind Calhoun for second place in the region standings.

The Jackets got one run back on a two-out, run-scoring double, but Wildcats senior Dylynn Motes responded with a leadoff homer in the third frame.

Calhoun made things interesting down the stretch, with Reyes hitting another homer in the sixth. However, Baker finished out a strong complete-game effort with 13 strikeouts. The senior allowed five hits, four of which went for extra bases, and two walks.

Baker, a Columbus State commit, came back even better against Jones County (23-7), which hit her hard in a quarterfinal series last year in Bartow County. The right-hander allowed just one hit, while striking out 10 and walking none, over five dominant frames.

Woodland (19-14-2) backed up its pitcher by striking for two runs in each of the first two innings before blowing things open with a seven-run outburst in the third.

The Wildcats pounded out 13 hits — 12 of which came in the first three innings — and drew six walks. They even took advantage of two hit batsman in the dominant victory.

Michiah Hicks went 4-for-4, adding two runs scored and four RBIs; Jessica Ryan contributed a pair of hits; and Motes, Jones and Peyton Dorn each reached three times.

The elimination-game wins mark Woodland’s second- and third-ever triumphs in Columbus. The first came over Northgate in 2004, when the Wildcats made their only prior appearance in the double-elimination state tournament.

Just like Friday’s victories, Woodland’s win over Northgate came in an elimination game following a first-round defeat. In 2004, that loss occurred against Chapel Hill. This time around, it happened Thursday versus Starr’s Mill, which faces Northside, Columbus in the winners bracket final at 11 a.m. Saturday.

At the same time, Woodland will battle Loganville (29-7) in another win-or-go-home situation. The victor will face the Starr’s Mill-Northside loser for a spot in the championship round.