Wildcats drop vital game to Raiders

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In a battle for second place in Region 7-AAAAA, Woodland couldn't get enough timely hits to dig itself out of an early hole Monday.

After giving up a three-spot in the top of the first, the Wildcats managed to get runners on base in every inning. But Woodland struggled to push them across in a 5-3 home loss to East Paulding that severely dents the team's hopes of repeating as region champions.

"We just didn't hit together," Wildcats head coach Colman Roberts said. "It was a slow-paced game. I don't know. It was just one of those days, I guess.

"They're a good team, well coached. We just didn't hit together."

Despite only having three hits, which is the same number Woodland had in a 6-3 win over East Paulding to begin the year, the Wildcats (9-6, 6-3) had plenty of chances to get a huge leg up in the race for second place.

Woodland, which had won seven straight, finally scratched across one run in the bottom of the third. With runners at second and third, Ansley Evans lifted a sacrifice fly to score Allyssa Motes to cut the deficit to 4-1.

Evans came through again in the fifth to start a rally. Her two-out infield single extended the inning before Morgan Cooper was hit by a pitch. Kendyl Hardin followed with a two-run double ripped down the third base line, just inside the bag, to claw Woodland back within 4-3.

Hardin wound up stranded at second base, and she was forced out at second in the seventh inning to end the game. Overall, Woodland left nine runners on base to just four stranded for East Paulding.

"We stranded runners at critical times," Roberts said.

In some ways, Lainey Baker, who would be the absolute frontrunner for Bartow County pitcher of the year at the midway point of the season, looked her usual self, as she totaled nine strikeouts against two walks.

However, she also looked slightly worn down with both her free passes coming in the first inning. On the occasions she missed location, the Raiders (10-8, 7-2) made her pay. The visitors hit three doubles and one home run, and all of their runs came directly off extra-base hits.

"I thought Lainey looked good," Roberts said. "A couple of mistakes here and there. I think we struck that eight hole hitter out twice, and she hit that home run."

A two-bagger got the first inning rally started, as East Paulding loaded the bases with one out. Following a big strikeout, Baker gave up a bases-clearing double that seemed to completely demoralize a Woodland team that just two days prior had won a second consecutive county championship.

"You can't give teams like that a lead," Roberts said. "They're good. They've got some good hitters, and they're three deep pitching-wise."

With two outs in the third inning, the Raiders hit a single off the fence before following that up with an RBI double for a 4-0 lead. Even after the Wildcats had fought back to within one run, the visitors posted a key insurance run on a leadoff home run in the seventh.

With the result, East Paulding takes a one-game lead over Woodland in the standings with seven region games left for both sides. The Wildcats will almost certainly need to win out to return to the region championship series.

That's easier said than done with a road game at region-leading Carrollton up next on the schedule. Even though Woodland won three of five meetings last year, the Wildcats fell to the Trojans (15-1, 8-0) earlier this season.

"We split with them last year [during the regular season], and we've got to come ready to play [today] and steal one at Carrollton," Roberts said. "It's going to be tough. They haven't lost a region game, and they've only lost one game all year."