Turning the practice schedule over to his seniors helped Woodland go from a midseason slump to a three-round postseason run, and the Bobcats (16-10) hope to run deeper this weekend as they play host to No. 7 American Christian (27-12) a best-of-3 series.
The winner advances to the Class 2A semifinals.
“It would be so special,” senior shortstop Zach Barron said. “We’ve been shooting for this since our ninth-grade year.
“To be right here, in the position we’re in now, we couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Thing is, Woodland got here by asking for more.
It all started in the last week of March, which saw the Bobcats lose one-run games to Lineville, Randolph County and Wadley. Those three losses left Woodland at 6-7.
That’s not what a veteran team expected, especially after making the playoffs three years in a row.
“We played extremely well to start the season, and then we bit a slump where we didn’t play very well in any aspect,” Bailey said. “We didn’t hit it. We didn’t field it very well, and we didn’t pitch it very well, either.”
So, Bailey turned to his seniors, most of whom have started since they were freshmen.
He turned to Barron, a .458 hitter, top defender and occasional relief pitcher.
Bailey turned to catcher Colton McManus, who has a team-high 23 RBIs, lead-off hitter and second baseman Reed Murphy, pitcher/first baseman Andrew Burroughs and right fielder Dustin Denney.
“We kind of sat down as a group, and I told my seniors that I had brought them a long ways, but I felt like it was their team,” Bailey said. “I gave them responsibility to make the practice schedule for the next month. I just turned it over to them.
“I said, ‘You all have got the practice schedule. Do you want me to throw it every day and my arm fall off, or do you want me to go home at 3 o’clock? It’s yours.’”
Woodland’s seniors erred on the side of more.
“We made it more reps,” Barron said. “We did a bunch more reps on every little thing, and we started doing individual groups more than the full team doing one thing.”
There’s no disputing the results.
The Bobcats are 10-3 since Bailey tossed the ball to his seniors. That includes playoff sweeps of Vincent and Ranburne, which won two of three games against Woodland during the regular season.
The Bobcats seem to have saved their best for last, having outscored their opponents 22-2 during the playoffs.
“Everybody got focused more on baseball, now that everybody was more serious,” Barron said. “All the seniors and the older groups, we cracked down on everybody younger, whoever wasn’t paying attention and stuff.
“Everybody hopped on board, and we were just ready to go.”
Will it be enough against American Christian, which has won seven state titles — six since 2000?
Answers come Friday at 4 and 6:30 p.m. and, if necessary, Saturday at 2 p.m., but Bailey isn’t worried about his team’s leadership and motivation.
“They’ve been playing for me forever, and we’re on a playoff streak,” he said. “I knew they didn’t want to end their careers, last time, not making it when they made it all the way up.
“They’ve done a good job of leading us and getting us turned back in the right direction.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.