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Sophomore catcher Justin Holland persuaded sophomore right-handed pitcher Nathan Woodard to join him in the Greenfield School varsity baseball program this past season.
A championship complexion resulted and the pitcher-catcher tandem paced the Knights to their first North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A/2-A Coastal Plains Independents Conference championship since winning the 1-A state title in 2015 and into the second round of the 2019 1-A playoffs.
Furthermore, Woodard and Holland, who both began their high school careers at North Johnston, collected the spoils along with veteran head coach Daniel Johnson.
The 6-foot-4, 202-pound Woodard, the first baseman when not pitching in his first Greenfield season, was proclaimed the CPIC Player of the Year and landed on the NCISAA 1-A All-State team along with Holland, who also claimed the honor as a freshman.
Johnson, in his 14th season, was tabbed the conference coach of the year.
Joining Woodard and Holland in the All-CPIC lineup from Greenfield were sophomore William Smith, Luke Flaherty, one of three seniors; and freshman Jacob Wiggs.
The Knights compiled a 14-7-1 record in a turnaround season.
“It seemed like a no-brainer,” Johnson said of Woodard being declared the league player of the year. He had an outstanding year; he was dominant.
“I don’t think anybody saw that kind of year coming — including himself. But Justin made Nathan as good as he was. Nathan had all the confidence in the world in Justin that he could throw his curve ball and Justin wouldn’t let it get past him.”
Mixing a fastball, curve, change-up and occasional cutter, Woodard compiled a 7-1 record with a scant 0.64 earned run average. The lanky right-hander hurled four complete games, fired a one-hitter against 2-A archrival Wayne Country Day; and flirted with a no-hitter against Northeast Academy before being lifted after six innings because of his pitch count.
In 54 1/3 innings, Woodard struck out a staggering 115 while issuing only 26 walks. Johnson estimated his fastball velocity in the mid-80s miles per hour, but Woodard reports the pitch speed is up to 88-92 mph in pitching for the Dirtbags 16U travel team this summer. His catcher is Holland.
“I feel good,” Woodard reacted to his player-of-the-year and all-state recognition. “It was a lot of work, dedication and practice every day. Every time I step onto the mound, I expect to win, throw strikes and have my teammates have my back.
“It’s an honor to be named all-state. This was my best season yet, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my catcher.”
Johnson explained he did not know what to expect from Woodard.
“In the offseason, he had velocity,” Greenfield’s head coach noted. “but his control wasn’t there. Then, in the first game — about the second inning — he started pounding the zone. Then, in the third game, he started getting his curve ball over. After that, he was dominant.”
Woodard said he was most effective at controlling the fastball and curve.
He also batted .400 (26 for 65) with 17 runs scored, 25 runs batted in and four doubles.
The pitcher-first baseman assured he’s delighted he listened to Holland. They plan to be Greenfield teammates in not only baseball, but varsity basketball next season.
“I wouldn’t take that decision back,” Woodard declared. “I had rather be at Greenfield than at the place I was. The academics and overall sports program are better. The major adjustment I had to make was academically.”
Holland repeated as all-state by batting a torrid .473 (26 for 55) with 20 runs scored, 21 RBIs, three doubles, a triple and 18 stolen bases. He also pitched 17 innings, walking 11, striking out 28 and posting a 1-0 record with a 3.29 ERA.
“Justin led us at the plate and had to do it all,” Johnson praised. “When it comes to physical tools, he’s the best catcher I’ve ever had. And that’s high praise.”
Johnson compared Holland with Luke Taylor, who completed his Greenfield career in 2015.
Among the Knights’ all-conference performers, Smith batted .265 with a team-high 24 runs and 11 RBIs. Flaherty hit at a .281 clip with 16 runs scored, 15 RBIs and three doubles. Wiggs scored 17 runs and had nine RBIs.
HONORED 5TH TIME
Johnson emerged the league coach of the year for the fifth time.
“They are all special,” he responded. “It’s a privilege that the other coaches think you’re the coach of the year. But you are only as good as your players. They don’t let me play, and the players win the award for the coach.”
Johnson described the 2019 season as “a lot different.”
“We didn’t hit the ball very well,” he explained. “We were a small-ball team. We relied on pitching and defense. We had to be perfect in the field and throw a ton of strikes. We needed to be close late to have a chance (to win). We won a lot of games like that.”
And Johnson points out the base, anchored by Woodard and Holland, is promising for 2020.