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Nate Woods enjoys banner year at Belmont

A total of 1,525 baseball players were selected in the Major League draft last year. High school kids, college kids, pimply faced kids, all sorts of kids.

But not Nate Woods.

"It was definitely devastating," he said this week.

Woods belted 20 home runs and drove in 78 runs last season at Belmont University to rank among the NCAA Division I leaders in both categories, but none of the 30 Major League teams gave him a sniff.

He was drafted in the 28th round by the Dodgers in 2007 when he was a senior at Xavier High School, but nobody thought he was worthy of being selected last year as a junior in college.

There were 50 rounds in the 2010 draft, and nobody thought the 6-foot-6, 235-pound slugger was worth a chance.

"I have no idea what happened last year," he said.

It's funny how things work out sometimes. Woods is almost glad he wasn't drafted, because he's had another magical year with the Belmont Bruins.

He drove in five runs to help them beat Tennessee 10 days ago. He was the winning pitcher when the Bruins upset 17th-ranked Stetson to clinch a spot in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, earning him A-Sun Pitcher of the Week laurels.

He got his business degree this month, made the all-conference team as a designated hitter, received the 2011 President's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award and has written his name all over the Belmont record book.

And it's not over yet. The Bruins need just one more victory on Saturday to win the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and claim an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs, which means Belmont would have a chance to reach the College World Series in Omaha.

If Woods had been drafted last year, he might have signed a pro contract and missed all this. He might be a rookie in extended spring training somewhere in Arizona or Florida, with no degree and no special memories from his senior year in college.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said.

Belmont wasn't supposed to be this close to making the NCAA tournament. The Bruins had to upset Stetson in the final game of the regular season just to make the A-Sun tournament as the No.6 seed, claiming the final spot in the field.

Woods struggled earlier this season as a pitcher and had been demoted from the weekend rotation, but he got the ball with the season on the line in that crucial regular-season game against Stetson.

"I was fortunate enough that my coaches believed in me, and my teammates believed in me," he said. "That's a position you want to be in. I'm glad Coach gave it to me. We all got it done together."

Making the A-Sun tourney as the No.6 seed was nice, but lowly six seeds rarely win conference tournaments. Except now, perhaps.

The Bruins beat Stetson, the top seed, in the opening round on Wednesday, 5-3, when Woods hit a two-run homer. They beat Kennesaw State, 4-1, on Thursday with Woods collecting another RBI. And they tripped Mercer, 6-4, on Friday, with Woods allowing only two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision.

Belmont (35-24) is waiting for someone to emerge from the loser's bracket for Saturday's final round in Nashville. The Bruins are the only undefeated team in the double-elimination tournament, so all they have to do is win one game and the title is theirs.

There's only one thing that could have made all this even better for Woods. His grandfather and best pal, Ken Charipar, died this past March and isn't around to share the fun. Woods feels his presence, however.

"Even after he passed, I felt like he was always with me, you know what I mean?," he said. "There are times when I'm at second base as a baserunner and I'll think, 'I bet old Kenny is having a blast watching this game.'

"I can see him sitting there, right behind the mound on a stool or something, watching us. There would be times when I'd go hit in a cage or go hit off a tee, and he'd be there, just like he used to be at Perfect Game every day with me, telling me what to do: 'Keep swinging, keep attacking.'

"I definitely miss him," Woods said. "I wish I could call him and share my successes and failures with him. I don't have anyone to call anymore. But he suffered so long, I'm glad he doesn't have to suffer anymore."

Woods has hit 12 homers with 60 RBIs this season. His power numbers are lower this year, partially due to new bat rules this season, but his average climbed from .319 to .346 and his strikeouts declined by roughly one-third.

"I think I had a better year this year than I did last year," he said. "I've grown as a hitter, I've become smarter."

Woods has slugged 39 homers and driven in 170 runs during his career at Belmont, covering a span of 168 games. He's also compiled a 19-14 record as a pitcher in 49 outings.

His numbers could be even higher, but he appeared in only nine games as a sophomore in 2009 due to injuries. Even so, he holds single-season records for homers and RBIs and ranks among the top-3 in career homers, RBIs and pitching starts.

The 2011 major league draft begins on June 6. Woods was drafted once. He hopes it happens again.

"My fingers are crossed," he said. "I feel better this year going into it than last year.

"I'm confident something will work out," he said. "But if it doesn't, I have faith in the Lord that he'll take care of me in other ways."

Last Updated ( Friday, 27 May 2011 19:52 )  

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