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East’s Wood ready to become a Hilltopper

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By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON - After having committed to play baseball at Western Kentucky University back on July 2, Bullitt East senior catcher made it official on Thursday as he signed to play for the Hilltoppers starting in the fall of 2013.

While Bullitt East has produced a number of quality baseball players, Wood is only the second player to sign with an NCAA Division I program out of high school. The first was Brandon Alphin three years ago with the University of Louisville where he is still a player.

Once he had the offer from Western Kentucky head coach Matt Myers, it didn’t take long for Wood to make his commitment back in the summer.

“I loved the coaches and the facilities,” Wood said just before signing all the important papers in the Bullitt East library. “It seemed like I had a good opportunity to play. The atmosphere I picked up on seemed to show I had a chance to play.”

Wood and the Hilltoppers began talking back during the high school season and then things picked up in June as Western’s season ended and they had a chance to watch Wood play some games with his summer league program - the Louisville Baseball Club.

The Bullitt East senior also had offers from Murray State, Eastern Kentucky and Southern Illinois.

Unlike most sports, some top baseball players take the junior college route. That is something that a number of Bullitt East players have done in recent years, but the top level of college baseball was too much for Wood to turn down.

“It was an option,” Wood said of playing two years at a junior college. “I talked to some of those programs. Western Kentucky was just the place for me.”

At Bullitt East, Wood has been the starting catcher since he was a freshman. However, in the summer, he also plays the outfield. That opens up his options on a college team for early playing time.

“I’ll play wherever it is that gets me on the field the fastest,” Wood said.”

Wood’s father, Craig, played baseball at Bullitt East and his uncle, Brian Wood, played professional baseball, reaching Double-A play as a pitcher after also playing at Bullitt East.

Another part of baseball is that high school players can be drafted by teams and jump right into professional sports. That is more a dream than realistic for Wood, but he has thought about it.

“I would love to be drafted, but that is not really something I think about,” he said. “I haven’t talked to any professional scouts. That could pick up in the spring.”

As a junior, Wood batted .400 in the number three spot for the Chargers. The team posted a 34-7 record for a team that won the 24th District title and then reached the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament before falling to Pleasure Ridge Park 3-0.

During that season, Wood hit six home runs and broke the school record with seven triples. He also had eight doubles while driving in 37 runs. Wood had a final slugging percentage of .700 and he was named All-District, All-Sixth Region and was an All-State honorable mention selection.

Unlike most local baseball players who sign either in the spring or after the season, Wood still has a whole senior season ahead of him. The son of Craig and Missy Wood, will be 18-years of age when the season starts in March and he has big plans for his team in the spring.

“I’m just going to try to lead the team as far as possible in the post-season and lave on a good note,” Wood said. “I just want to be there to make sure all my teammates get better.

“We should be good,” the senior added. “We can be as good as we want to be.”

Wood, who has an older sister, Kaylin, and a younger sister, Josie, wasn’t ready to name a major for college, but he did say that he has interest in the criminal justice field.

Baseball was the first love of Wood who started playing in the Mount Washington Youth League when he was 6-years of age. After the age of 10, he started playing baseball with traveling teams and did that until joining the Bullitt East program as a seventh-grader while he was still attending Eastside Middle School.

Bullitt East baseball coach Jeff Bowles, who attended Western Kentucky himself, has had contact with the Hilltopper coaches since 2008 when they had some interest in Zach McCarthy. That rolled into an interest in Alphin and Matt Bowles, but this was the first time the two sides made full contact on a player.

“I talk with coach Allen,” Bowles said of Hilltopper assistant coach Blake Allen. “We have each others number. That’s a compliment. I would send any kid to Western Kentucky.”

Still, it was the summer action that the Western Kentucky coaches watched that sealed the deal.

“Summer baseball is like summer basketball in that the coaches are busy with their own seasons during our season,” Bowles pointed out. “They have more time to see players in the summer. It’s all about timing. You just have to be there. You just need to play, play, play.”

To keep Wood fresh for the post-season, Bowles said that he might move from behind the plate at times during the season and could be a designated hitter or play one of the corner outfield spots. But, he will play every day.

“For us to be as good as we can be, we will have to have him hitting in the number three spot,” Bowles said.

At Western Kentucky, Wood joins a program that posted a 25-33 record last season. That mark did include an 8-1 win over Louisville, the 18th-ranked team in the country at the time.

This upcoming spring will be the second season for the team under Myers who was named the head coach in July of 2011. He had served the previous four seasons as an assistant coach in the program after being a player at the University of Tennessee.

Western is one of the top teams in the Sun Belt Conference. They have played in the NCAA National Baseball Tournament twice over the past five seasons. The Hilltopper program has had 16 players drafted since 2009.