Woodland High senior Bailey Ward signed recently to play baseball at Young Harris College. On hand for the signing were, from left, front row: Jimmy Ward, grandfather; Shane Ward, father; Rhonda Webb, mother; Steve Webb, stepfather; back row, Matt Montgomery, WHS interim head coach; Wes Dickey, WHS principal; John Howard, WHS athletic director; and Colby Coursey, former WHS head coach. RANDY PARKER/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWSPosted Saturday, April 13, 2019 BY NICHOLAS SULLIVAN

Bailey Ward has been the best hitter for the Woodland baseball team this season. The senior batted cleanup a vast majority of his junior campaign, but he’s seamlessly transitioned to the leadoff spot.

Even more impressively, Ward has developed into arguably the top pitcher this year for the Wildcats. This comes after not throwing a single pitch during the 2018 regular season, during which he played catcher for all 31 games.

While it’s his ability behind the plate that likely caught the attention of the baseball coaches at Young Harris College, Ward’s skills inside the batter’s box and atop the mound make him a potential triple-threat for the Mountain Lions.

“He can catch and hit, and I think he’s proved this year, he can throw,” Woodland interim head coach Matt Montgomery said. “I don’t think [Young Harris has] decided [his role]. If you’re a catcher — and you’re a good one — you’re always valuable. … I think he’s got a chance to go in there to pitch and do really well.

“Last year, he was kind of the only catcher we really had in the program. He had to catch the whole time and didn’t get to really pitch. Coming into [this] year, we were hoping he would be able to. What he’s been able to do for the team this year and step up has been a testament to his hard work to be put in a role he wasn’t probably expecting to do either.”

Ward signed last month with Young Harris after having visited and committed to the program during the fall. He will join teammate Koby Stansel, who also signed with the school this spring, as a future Mountain Lion.

“I really liked the campus, it was beautiful,” Ward said. “It’s a great program, great coaches. I’m happy to spend more time with Koby.”

It’s the second straight season Woodland baseball has sent two signees to the same school. Last year, Jordan Lee and Kenny Jinks signed with Shorter University.

Ward said he and Stansel didn’t have a plan to play for the same college, but he thinks someone else did.

“I committed before I even knew they offered him,” Ward said. “I didn’t know that was his No. 1 team, but I guess God has a plan for us.”

Montgomery said he thinks it’s great for Ward and Stansel to be able to continue playing together next season.

“You’ve got guys from the same team, so there’s some familiarity there,” he said. … It’s great for us to have players who can go do that. It’s good to be able to go with somebody you know, somebody you grew up with.”

Not only will Ward get to play alongside Stansel but also some other former Bartow County players will be on the Young Harris roster next season.

It’s easy to see why current high school players are drawn to the program. After winning just one-third of its games in 2017, Young Harris finished above .500 last season at 26-24. This year, the Mountain Lions have already surpassed that win total, as they entered today with a 28-13 mark.

“It’s a positive vibe,” Ward said of the program. “You get a positive vibe, when you’re on campus. The guys really show you love and show you really strong support. I think I’ll have a great next four years up there.”

At this point, Ward knows he’ll have a chance to catch for Young Harris in some capacity moving forward. However, he’s not giving up hope of getting to pitch for the Mountain Lions, especially if he can improve during the upcoming offseason.

“I’m going up there to catch, right now,” Ward said. “Over the summer, I’m going to start working out more and hopefully get into a velocity program. I’m going to try to get a couple innings in up there if the coaches want me to, but I’m going up there to catch, mainly.”

With just a few games left in his senior season, Ward leads Woodland in batting average (.324) and on-base percentage (.448). He’s also third in slugging (.394) and second in OPS (.843). On the mound, he’s second in ERA (3.47) and WHIP (1.49) among those with at least 15 innings pitched.

Despite all that success, there’s something Ward’s going to miss even more than getting to wear that big “W” on his hat.

“The seniors, especially, and all the guys on the team, they’re my best friends,” he said. “I love them like brothers.”