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apFor a program that had been to the state championship game in 2022 and to the Class 4 semifinals, the start to this baseball season looked a little foreign.

James Wood opened the season 0-3 and nearing the halfway mark of the regular season the Colonels were 3-5.

While the move to Region 4D this season encouraged playing a weaker schedule with winning percentage deciding the four teams that would qualify from the North Division, James Wood coach Adrian Pullen wasn’t about to go that route with his young team.

Like he had seen state champion Hanover do in 2023, he was willing to let his squad take a few lumps early against tough competition in the hopes the Colonels would be playing well at the end of the season.

It worked. James Wood would win 11 of its next 14 games, advance to the finals of Region 4D and qualify for the Class 4 quarterfinals. Against a team they had lost to twice in the regular season, the Colonels (14-10) came within a strike of beating Region 4C champion Tuscarora, falling 4-3 in eight innings.

In guiding James Wood to its third consecutive state tournament appearance, Pullen has won The Winchester Star’s Baseball Coach of the Year Award for the third consecutive time.

Q: What were your expectations for the season and were they met?

Pullen: In my four years, my program’s expectation has been to win the last game. Everything we do is centered around that. Our players, coaches and families have all bought into that expectation and are willing to do whatever that takes to achieve that goal. Nothing in life is handed to you and you must work for what you want to achieve. We set that expectation of winning the last game every year. Our kids believe in it and they truly work hard and believe in themselves and each other to accomplish that. We haven’t got there, yet, but we know what it takes to get there.

Q: What qualities stood out about this team?

Pullen: This team evolved into a team that nobody outside of the dugout believed we could accomplish what we accomplished. We struggled through the first half. We put it together and they started believing in each other that we always had a chance to win if we stayed together. That was the best quality of this team — we didn’t give up. There was truly only one game all year that we truly did not compete in and that was the first game of the season. Every other game, we competed until the end whether it was a good result or bad result. I believe it’s a result of the culture and the expectations that our program has over the past four years.

Q: Was there a game that you thought defined the season?

Pullen: Probably the biggest game for us in the season was the second Sherando game (the Warriors won 4-3 in the first meeting). They blanked us through three innings and then we flipped the switch. We scored 10 runs in the next three innings and won 10-1. I told the kids after the game that it was our most complete game since 2022 in all phases of the game. Offensively, we had 12 hits and 10 runs. Defensively, we had zero errors. Pitching, we gave up one earned run. That game gave us the confidence that we could execute our plan for the season and it propelled us to win seven of the next nine games. It completely changed the season for us and our plan was in full execution at that point.

Q: Were there any adjustments you made during the season that you thought paid off?

Pullen: Going into the season, we knew that we were going to have to score more runs to be successful while our [pitchers] gain confidence in themselves. We basically had a new staff, except for Garett [McAlexander]. They had to learn to trust their stuff and have some success and believe in it. Offensively, we tried to put the best nine hitters each day that gave us a chance to score more runs than the other team. As we got deeper into the season and our pitching staff grew stronger, we started winning on pitching and defense which goes back to our plan over the past two seasons. Our offense relied on execution and taking what the other teams gave us. Coach [C.J.] Morton did a great job with our [pitching] staff this year and Coach [Kooper] Anderson as well with our hitters. They put in countless hours to make our team successful and did what it took to make our guys believe in themselves and put us in position to win each game.

Q: How important was it to you to play tougher competition during the regular season, even though the region qualifying format was based on winning percentage?

Pullen: I’ve always believed in playing competition. If you don’t play competition, you’re not going to get better. Our schedule was set up to play competition as we’ve done over the last few years and I believe it’s paid off. In the end when we get to the postseason, we’ve played great competition. We’ve competed against them and we have belief we can win against anybody we play against. I believe that’s why we have success in the postseason. I’m not big on scheduling perceived wins. I want to play competition, no matter how it shakes out in the end. That’s our plan for our kids and our program — we want to play the best. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for — to make ourselves better.

Q: You lose some solid seniors, several who will play college baseball. What are your thoughts about next season?

Pullen: It happens every year. You have players that leave and you have to replace those with young and hungry guys to continue to lead our program to our expectations. We will return three of our four top arms as well as some very capable hitters. Every year, I expect the next group to work harder than the last because they have tasted success and failure. They know what it takes and success is a whole lot sweeter.

— Compiled by Walt Moody