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Woodland takes low-key approach into playoffs

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

In the midst of Woodland's most successful season of baseball, Wolfpack coach Michael Hardy kept quiet.

Inquisitive teachers and administrators wanted to know how Woodland's baseball team was doing in year three, but Hardy refrained from over-selling his team's performance. He knew, over the course of 26 games and three months, anything could happen.

Instead, Woodland kept winning. Unlike the Wolfpack's first season (understandably), when they won four games. Unlike last season (again, understandably), when they won just six. But on Friday, the Wolfpack will open the Class AAA tournament against Cairo with a 16-10 record, their first winning season and playoff appearance in school history.

"I really thought we had a shot at the playoffs this year," Hardy said. "Now, I knew some things would have to go our way."

When Hardy began the Wolfpack program in 2008, he stressed the significance of minimizing mistakes. It's no coincidence then that Woodland's ascension coincided with the improvement of its pitching and defense.

The Wolfpack have allowed almost a run less this season than a year ago and have a run differential of plus-32. Behind pitchers Cole Ashbaugh, Dustin Ware and Dillon Livecche, the Wolfpack give up less than two walks a game.

"My whole philosophy is simple," Hardy said. "I tell them in high school baseball you don't necessarily win games, you lose games. Our goal was to simply try to make fewer mistakes."

Mistakes hold far greater consequences in the state playoffs, however, and nobody knows that better than Hardy himself. He spent seven seasons as head coach at Crisp County, which is in the same region (1-AAA) as Cairo. While there, the Cougars won four region championships and never missed the playoffs.

The atmosphere of baseball at Crisp County is far different than at Woodland. Fans came out in numbers expecting to see quality baseball. When Hardy left the program, the local newspaper wrote a three-part series about his departure.

"Crisp had become pretty accustommed to at least being in the running for the region championship," Hardy said.

Woodland isn't there yet, Hardy knows. But for now, that's just fine.

"I've tried to keep it low key," Hardy said. "We're not guaranteed anything. I didn't want to talk it up too much and then all of a sudden have us lay a couple eggs and have us on the outside looking in.

"I haven't been making a big deal about it other than with the players. If a teacher or parents asked me how we're doing, I'd say, 'Well, we've got a shot at the playoffs.'"

Now, they have a shot at even more.