Three was the lucky number for Benjamin Russell graduate Corley Woods as he helped lead the Jacksonville State baseball team to the Ohio Valley Conference championship this weekend.
In his redshirt-junior year for the Gamecocks, Woods has been a mainstay on the pitching staff for three years now but it wasn’t until the OVC tournament Woods emerged as a heroic closer.
“That’s the first time I’ve come in to close three games in a row this year; it might be the first time in my career actually,” Woods said. “I haven’t done much closing this year. We have two guys who are the closers, and I’m usually before them. The guys that we usually go to, I wouldn’t say they had their best stuff so it just ended up being me for those three games.”
Woods started his pitching run during the Gamecocks’ first-round game against Belmont. Entering in the top of a tied 10th inning, Woods retired all three batters he faced to give his offense a chance. JSU immediately delivered as Alex Strachan smashed a walk-off home run to earn a 6-5 victory.
Woods once again remained perfect in the semifinals. As Austin Peay looked to make a comeback having scored two runs in the top of the ninth, Woods entered with only one out on the board. He protected the victory by inducing a fly out and fanning the final batter to give Jax State the 8-4 victory and punching a ticket to the championship.
In Jacksonville State’s most dominating win of the tournament, Woods threw the final 1 2/3 innings and was one hit batter away from remaining perfect through his entire tournament run. He didn’t allow a single hit, though, and the Gamecock defense helped his cause by ending the game on a double play.
“That last one, of course, when we ended on a double play, that was a great feeling,” Woods said. “It felt great all three of those games though, helping the team win.”
Woods fired a total of 3 1/3 innings throughout the tournament and didn’t allow a hit or a walk.
“I was just doing what I was doing all season and throwing a lot of sliders,” Woods said. “Whenever I’m hitting those for strikes, we can mess around with my fastball. So those were really the only two pitches I was throwing.”
Now 6-0 on the season, Woods has appeared in 24 games and thrown 40 innings this year. He has allowed 28 hits and only 10 earned runs while striking out 20.
Woods and the Gamecocks aren’t done yet and will make a trip to Oxford, Mississippi on Friday for their NCAA Regional. JSU will be in a regional with Ole Miss, Clemson and Illinois, and it’s the Gamecocks’ first trip to an NCAA Regional since 2014.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Woods said. “Swayze Field (where Ole Miss plays and the tournament will be held), I’ve never played on it but I’ve heard it’s amazing. It fits like 11,000 people and I’ve heard it’ll be packed out. We play at night, so it’ll be fun. Now, it’s just don’t lose twice and you win it. That’s our motto.”
Although Woods was the go-to closer for the OVC Tournament, he’s not sure if that role will stay the same during the NCAA Regional. But he’s ready for whatever comes his way.
“I think we’re going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing all year,” Woods said. “I’m the guy that’ll be there whenever Coach needs me, whether that be early in the game or late.”
And although he’s three years removed from his time as a Wildcat, Woods said he still uses what he learned at Benjamin Russell to bring him success at JSU.
“You can ask any of my teammates here: I’m always talking about Benjamin Russell,” Woods said. “I loved my four years there and playing under coach (Richy) Brooks. He taught me a lot and he prepared me to play on the big stage.”