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Tournaments | Story | 7/6/2019

Woolfolk wills Cardinals to win

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Jay Woolfolk (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. – The Virginia Cardinals 2021’s clung to a 2-1 lead over Rawlings Southeast MAD Mavericks with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Jay Woolfolk came on in relief and hadn’t allowed a run through the four-plus innings he had been on the mound, but found himself in a jam with runners on first and second. 

Armed with a fastball that reached as high as 94 mph and was consistently in the low-90s, Woolfolk reared back one more time and unleashed the heater. First baseman Jalen Strattman speared the sharp ground ball down the line and flipped it to Woolfolk covering the bag to preserve the 2-1 win.

“I keep my nerves because I know my teammates have my back,” Woolfolk said. “That’s one big thing I need to have. That last ball wasn’t a little chopper. It wasn’t slow. I knew my first baseman can do what he can do.”

It was an impressive combination of guts and poise by Woolfolk. Earlier in the fourth inning, Woolfolk was faced with a bases loaded and one out threat. Instead of panicking, he induced a broken bat infield pop up and fanned the next batter.

The No. 27 overall player in the 2021 class and the No. 1 player in Virginia remained calm all game long, striking out seven over five innings of work out of the bullpen. He surrendered two hits, one walk, and no runs. When he wasn’t bringing the heat with his fastball, Woolfolk kept hitters off balance with a devastating slider and swing-and-miss changeup against lefties.

“He’s always been a great competitor,” Cardinals head coach Rich Graham said. “Jay is one of those guys who is not only very talented, but he’s very mentally tough. He’s been in a lot of big moments, he’s pitched in a lot of big games, and he always believes in himself.”

As such an explosive athlete on the bump with nasty stuff, Woolfolk sometimes needs to be reminded to take off the cape and rein it in a tad in those big moments. That was the case when Graham visited Woolfolk on the mound before the final out.

“I said, ‘Listen Jay, I don’t need extra you right now, I just need you because you is enough,’” Graham said. “It was. He kind of took a couple deep breaths, relaxed, and he got back in the zone. He was awesome.

“Sometimes when you’re that electric and you know you can do special things, it’s hard to try not to do more. You try to remind him, just be yourself. Don’t try to be super Jay, just be Jay.”

At the 2019 WWBA 16u National Championship, Woolfolk is the top uncommitted prospect in attendance. However, his recruiting process is slightly different from most players atop the rankings.

“The biggest thing is football with baseball,” Woolfolk said. “I have to find a school where it’s going to comfort me like home and I can play both.” 

At Benedictine College Preparatory, a private high school in Richmond, Virginia, Woolfolk is the star athlete on the diamond and on the gridiron. As a sophomore, Woolfolk engineered the offense as a dual threat quarterback and led the Cadets to the Division I VISAA Championship game, falling just short of the state title. Just several months later, the righthander guided Benedictine to a 28-2 season that finished with a VISAA State Championship. 

It’s the IQ that Woolfolk possesses both on the mound and behind center that has translated to the most success for him in both sports.

“Knowing what to do at all times in situations,” Woolfolk said. “If it’s a 2-0 count, of course the hitter is going to be sitting fastball, so I throw him a curveball. Just like in football, you have to have a plan before you do it. That’s what I do when I get up and am about to snap the ball. I have a plan before I even throw the ball.”

Woolfolk also plays basketball for his high school, but it’s that football and baseball amalgamation that keeps him working towards the next step at the college level. It’s why schools like Penn State, UVA, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and South Carolina have caught Woolfolk’s attention with the interest they’ve expressed. 

Wherever Woolfolk eventually ends up, Graham explains that while his athletic talents are otherworldly, ultimately it’s his attitude and character that will bring the 16 year old to places the normal person couldn’t go.

“That kid can do anything that he wants on the baseball field. He can do anything he wants on the football field,” Graham said. “He’s just a really special athlete, special competitor, but he’s also a special teammate. I have not worked with, been around, or had the pleasure of knowing really anybody else like him. He’s supremely confident, but at the same time humble. It’s a special thing. He’s that guy.”

The Cardinals now sit with a 2-1 record so far in pool play at the 16u WWBA. What makes Graham’s team unique is that the majority of players have been playing together since they were young. The chemistry was never more apparent on the field than in the 2-1 win where the Cardinals played error-free baseball and chipped away against a tough Southeast Rawlings team after falling behind early.

“Seven or eight of these guys have been a nucleus all the way through since they were 8 years old,” Graham said. “I believe that we have a little bit of an edge because we know each other and because we know what each guy is capable of. It’s that comfort confident thing that you know that these guys have your back.”

With Woolfolk leading the charge and a cast of other skilled players like Brett Allen, Joshua JT Carter, and Caden Plummer, this is the summer and the specific tournament that the Cardinals have long been waiting to put it all together.

“We’ve been building up to this year,” Graham said. “I’ve been looking forward to this summer for a while. Hopefully we can pull this thing together and keep rolling and see what happens.”


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