NEW FORMAT — In 2004, Woodland reached the Elite Eight of the state playoffs and advanced to a double-elimination tournament in Columbus. The same setup has existed every year since …
NEW FORMAT — In 2004, Woodland reached the Elite Eight of the state playoffs and advanced to a double-elimination tournament in Columbus. The same setup has existed every year since — until 2020.
Due to COVID-19, the GHSA announced in mid-August that it would limit each classification to four representatives in Columbus this season. Thus, a quarterfinal round was added to the playoffs before the Final Four qualifiers move on to the double-elimination portion of the postseason.
Regardless, the Wildcats have advanced further than any team in school history, save for the 2004 squad. While Woodland always talks about trying to reach “Columbus,” the team has essentially achieved that goal with its Elite Eight berth.
In some ways, the Wildcats (24-9) now have a better chance of being one of the final Class 5A teams left standing, as they will host for the third consecutive round next week. Woodland — the Region 7-AAAAA runner-up — has benefitted from upsets in its quadrant to secure a trio of home series, including a quarterfinal date with third-seeded Jones County Tuesday.
After taking down another three seed (Lithia Springs) in the first round, the Wildcats got to host No. 4 seed Greenbrier Thursday in the second round. Woodland swept both opponents and will look for more of the same next week in an attempt to secure its best playoff finish in program history.
“I like the way the bracket is,” Wildcats head coach Colman Roberts said. “Of course, we’ll have to win another two out of three. But I think it will be a lot better if you do get to go to Columbus.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST — While shopping Wednesday at Ingles, Roberts ran into Jessie Dover — a former Woodland player, who was part of that historic 2004 team. A day later, Dover watched as the current Wildcats matched the 2004 group with an Elite Eight appearance.
According to Roberts — who coached that 2004 team — Woodland went 1-2 in the state tournament that season, sandwiching losses to Chapel Hill and Stockbridge around a win over Northgate.
Perhaps, there was a bit of serendipity involved in Wednesday’s chance encounter with his former outfielder. Almost as if Dover, representing the best team in program history, gave her blessing for the 2020 iteration to join them in the record books.
“I said, ‘We ain’t been past this spot since you left,’” Roberts said of his conversation with Dover. “She said, ‘You all got it.’”
HONORING COOPER — When Morgan Cooper went down with a knee injury during Game 2 of Monday’s first-round doubleheader, the fear was that her senior season would be over. Based on the knee brace and crutches Cooper sported Thursday, that unfortunately appears to be the case.
If her season is indeed finished, the right-handed hitter will have concluded her final year with a .387/.438/.710 triple-slash line. She’s racked up 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs this season, while scoring 35 runs and driving home 33.
A Columbus State commit, Cooper was injured during an outfield collision in the third inning. A few yards away from where the center fielder suffered the injury just days prior, Roberts painted her No. 5 into the outfield grass as a tribute to Cooper.
Even though she couldn’t be on the field with her teammates Thursday, Roberts believes Cooper's presence in the dugout provided a boost for the Wildcats.
“When it happened, they were real down, because they’re so close to each other,” Roberts said. “It was big when Coop came to the game today. I painted her number out in center field. They liked that, and she did too. … I think having her in the dugout made them feel good.”
BOTTOM OF THE ORDER — Woodland managed nine hits in each half of Thursday’s doubleheader, and it wasn’t a case of the top of the order doing all the damage.
Yes, Ansley Evans, Michiah Hicks and Hannah Miller — the team’s first three names on the lineup card — each made significant contributions, but every starter recorded at least one hit on the day. That included key performances from the bottom half of the order.
No. 6 hitter Cambrie Carrington recorded two hits in Game 1. Dylynn Motes, the seventh hitter in the order, had a hit in each game. Cassie Jones, who bats eighth, went 2-for-3 in the second contest. Nine-hole hitter Jessica Ryan had a single in Game 1 and a sacrifice bunt in Game 2.
In the fourth inning of Game 2, Motes and Jones hit back-to-back doubles to extend Woodland’s lead to 5-0. Similar offensive displays will be needed Tuesday if the Wildcats hope to reach the Final Four.