Pitching was a concern for Woodstock this year, with Durham Hamilton the only experienced arm returning.
On offense, Cole Watson was a capable hitter, but the rest of the lineup was still unproven.
Todd Harris, in his first year as head coach after succeeding longtime Woodstock coach Scott Krug, found ways to make his young squad competitive.
Harris led the Wolverines back into the Class AAAAA state playoffs for the first time in three years. They finished the season 17-12 with a 6-6 Region 5AAAAA mark, good enough for fourth place, and they earned the first state playoff win in the program’s history — against then-No. 2 Milton.
Harris, the 2012 Cherokee Tribune Baseball Coach of the Year, was able to exploit the abilities of his young players by having his pitchers throw strikes, and having his defense play soundly. Harris said clutch hitting usually takes care of itself when those other two facets work together.
The new coach’s first objective during the preseason was having his pitchers throw strikes and making opposing batters put the ball in play.
Harris said 75 percent of practice was centered on taking care of groundballs and pop flies.
“We had to be fundamentally sound throughout, and that meant we had to throw strikes,” Harris said. “I don’t care if we get hit around. I don’t want us to walk people. I wanted to pound the strike zone. All the kids bought into that philosophy and played great defense.”
Woodstock ace Andrew Howard, who will be playing baseball at Southern Wesleyan (S.C.) College next year, bought into that concept and finished with a 9-2 record. Hamilton was 4-3 as the No. 2 starter.
Howard went the distance in a 4-3 extra-inning win over Lassiter on March 28, throwing seven strikeouts. He also had another complete-game victory a month later in a crucial region win over Wheeler that helped the Wolverines advance to the state tournament.
“(Harris) said all season to get a first-pitch strike and get ahead of the count,” Howard said. “Late in the count, we had to pitch smart. It benefited my game by lowering my pitch count and raising my confidence in all my pitches.”
Hamilton ended up with the win in Woodstock’s 3-1 victory over Walton on March 21 in the Wolverines’ region opener. He also tossed a complete game in a key 5-2 win over Etowah a month later and had another complete-game outing in a non-region win over Alpharetta.
The turning point of Woodstock’s season came the week before spring break.
The Wolverines had just beaten Lassiter behind a stellar pitching performance from Howard, before then allowing a six-run lead over Wheeler slip away two days later. They made uncharacteristic mistakes defensively, Wheeler took advantage, and Woodstock was handed a 10-6 loss that infuriated Harris.
“The wheels fell off,” he said. “We made three, four, five errors. I wasn’t too happy at all. I was off the charts, frustrated and mad. The kids didn’t play and compete the way I thought they could compete.”
Apparently, the players were just as frustrated as the coach. After several days off for spring
break, the whole team reported to practice more than an hour early, and Harris let them practice on their own before the structured practice period began.
The Wolverines went on to win seven of their next 10 games, including victories over Etowah and Wheeler, as well as non-region opponents North Cobb and Kell.
“I didn’t want to tell them at the time, but that was the turning point of our season,” Harris said.
In its playoff series against Milton, Woodstock got another complete game from Howard, played stellar defense and got the timely hits it needed to win 8-4 in the opener before then losing the next two games by 8-3 scores.