Transfer to the Top: Church and Wofford find quick success in first year at WKU

WKU’s Ryan Church slides safely into second base underneath the tag of South Alabama’s Davis Knapp during their game at Nick Denes field on Friday, April 18, 2014. The Toppers would go on to lose 13-10. (Brian Powers/HERALD)

Billy Rutledge

Before this season, WKU juniors Ryan Church and Cody Wofford were in two completely different places. Last year, Wofford lived in Albany, Ga. attending Darton College while Church attended Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Fla.

Now, the two junior college transfers are roommates at WKU and are pivotal pieces of the Topper baseball team.

“I don’t know if I can put into words what these two guys have brought on and off the field,” Coach Matt Myers said. “When I think of Ryan Church and Cody Wofford I think of teammates, toughness, competitive, emotional, and winners.”

Neither player chose the traditional path of a Division-I baseball player.

Junior Colleges offer unique options to athletes as a place to raise academics, better their playing ability and serve as a stepping-stone to the D-I level. These JUCO players are hot commodities to teams who need productive players fast. Along with Church and Wofford, outfielder Philip Diedrick also transferred to WKU for the 2014 season from Connors State College.

“Maturity, experience and toughness are all things they can bring,” Myers said. “There is a huge jump from high school to college ball, epically in this area, and sometimes it takes some time for players to get there. We look to JUCO to fill needs. These guys can come in right away with experience.”

Church and Wofford ended up in the same place, but their reason for going to junior college was a bit different.

“It was the way it worked out,” Wofford said. “I didn’t really have a plan and didn’t have too many great offers that I wanted so JUCO worked out.”

Wofford didn’t have a plan, but Church had other influences and knew the success the junior college route provided.

“I had my brother who went to Palm Beach State before me so I got offered early,” Church said. “I know how competitive junior college baseball is and if I can get 200 at bats my freshman and sophomore year, then I thought it was going to benefit me later on in my career. It has and now I get to come here and play Division-I baseball, which is huge.”

Now on the Hill, Wofford and Church are key components on a team over .500 (24-21, 10-8 Sun Belt Conference) and have beaten two top five teams this season on the road at No. 4 Vanderbilt and top-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette.

Church has been the primary cleanup hitter for the Toppers since day one. The first baseman is batting .293 and leads the team in home runs (seven), RBI’s (29) and total bases (78). When not at the plate, Church wears his emotions on his sleeve.

“I don’t know where we would be without Ryan Church to be honest,” Myers said. “With his toughness, attitude and preparation – sometimes he pushes the line with his emotion, but I love it. I would rather have a guy have to back off for a bit than have to get a guy tuned up.”

Wofford was sidelined with a hamstring injury early on but now plays a large role in the Toppers’ defensive success. Wofford struts a .947 fielding percentage with 22 double plays turned this year.

“Cody’s a glue stick,” Myers said. “If someone is in a bind, Cody is there for them. When Cody says something, everyone listens.”

The transition from junior college to D-I baseball is not always an easy one, both Church and Wofford admit.

With better players, coaches and more pressure, the task of playing at a high level is difficult. Both Wofford and Church seem to have made the transition a little less difficult.

“You have to bring it every day. Every game matters,” Church said. “Trying to get the RPI up, the wins up – in JUCO a lot of games don’t matter until conference. Coming out Tuesday against a Belmont or an Austin Peay and then going to play a team like Vanderbilt, you have to bring it every night.”

Church and Wofford have made a big impact on the baseball team but also each other since coming to the Hill as teammates, roommates and friends.

“They are like step brothers,” Myers said. “Some days you think they are fighting and all of a sudden they are best friends their personalities really go hand and hand.

“They challenge each other; they would give anything for each other. Their friendship is unbelievable. Wofford is quiet, Church is more vocal but my goodness they are the best teammates and they will do anything for their teammates. I don’t know where we would be without those two guys.”