Woodland is back in its comfort zone — the state playoffs.
Over the past five years, the Wildcats have never failed to reach the postseason. Three of those first four times, Woodland managed to advance past the opening round, and the Wildcats will hope to achieve that feat again this coming week.
After placing second in Region 7-AAAAA, Woodland is set to host Lithia Springs, Region 6-AAAAA's No. 3 seed, in a best-of-three first-round series Monday. With Game 3, if needed, set for Tuesday.
“I think we’re ready to play,” Wildcats head coach Colman Roberts said. “We only had one kid out of our starting lineup who wasn’t playing last year, so everybody’s been to the playoffs. The seniors have been every year that they’ve played.”
While his players are used to being here, Roberts is no stranger himself to this part of the season. Now in his 18th year, Roberts has made it to state 13 times. Even still, his current run has been the longest playoff streak in program history.
A fifth overall Sweet 16 berth is Roberts' focus at the moment, and Woodland seems primed to achieve that goal.
The Wildcats (20-9) currently rank 10th in Class 5A. Meanwhile, the Lions (18-10) check in at No. 29. Based on its scores posted to MaxPreps, Lithia Springs seems to have a decent offense, scoring 27 total runs in a doubleheader sweep of North Springs to clinch the third seed.
The only common opponent the teams share is Campbell. Both teams scored 13 runs in wins over the Spartans. The difference is that the Wildcats allowed just three runs, while the Lions gave up 10.
“We’re definitely not overlooking them,” Roberts said of Lithia Springs. “I can tell you that.”
Due to the state playoffs being pushed back and the region opting not to have a tournament to determine seeding, Woodland had been facing a barren late-season schedule. A couple of postponements worked in the Wildcats' favor, allowing them to stay sharp over the final few weeks of the season.
Despite being shut out by Lassiter on consecutive days, Woodland managed to end the season with a confidence-boosting victory over Calhoun, handing their new region rival its only defeat in the league.
“I would be real worried if we hadn’t played Calhoun Tuesday and had all of that time off,” Roberts said. “We chose not to have a region tournament so that all of the pitching for our region teams would be rested up and ready to go. Lainey [Baker] has been throwing a couple of days a week and pitched well against Calhoun.”
Baker is the unquestioned ace for Woodland and performed admirably when asked to throw both games of a doubleheader this season. Depending on how the opener goes, Roberts could have the option to start a mostly fresh Baker for Game 2 or turn to Cassie Jones for at least a few innings.
“We’re going to play that by ear,” Roberts said of his pitching plan. “Depending on how many innings [Baker] pitches in Game 1 and I’ll ask her how she feels. She always tells me the truth.”
Roberts obviously wants to close things out in Monday's doubleheader, which starts at 5 p.m., especially with the Sweet 16 set to begin Thursday. Things have lined up pretty well for Woodland with either St. Pius or Greenbrier — neither of which are in the classification's top 10 — as possible second-round opponents.
But first rounds first.
“We’ve just got to be at our best,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be a short turnaround from round one to round two. I kind of like that. Hopefully, we can win Monday, have two days off and then go into that second round.”