BRISTOL — Don’t be fooled by the ending; the Woodland boys basketball program continues to grow.
Tuesday night’s state tournament loss to St. Paul was another example of the Hawks’ progression, despite the lopsided final result.
Woodland, playing in the state tournament for a program-best fifth straight season, took it to higher-seeded St. Paul for the first 16 minutes. The Hawks earned a game in the state tournament and came out playing like they belonged there.
Defensively, Woodland was seemingly everywhere on the court and forced poor decisions by the Falcons.
“We played the best defensive half that we’ve played all year,” Woodland head coach Tom Hunt said of his team’s first-half performance.
They were cool and confident. They forced turnovers. They knocked down shots.
The No. 25-seeded Hawks were taking it to eighth-seeded St. Paul on its home floor.
Tanner Kingsley, the program’s all-time leading scorer, led the way with 11 first-half points. His three-point play gave Woodland its largest lead at 20-14 with 3:50 to go in the second quarter.
“The Woodland kids were comfortable, and you knew Tanner was going to keep them under control,” St. Paul head coach Steve Phelps said.
But it was more than Kingsley. It was a team effort, especially on defense during that first-half run when the Hawks’ zone defense was poetry in motion.
“We play five as one, when the ball moves everyone moves at the same time and it looks like one unit,” Hunt said. “In the second half we kind of got away from that and we tried for a few steals. The deeper that we got it opened us up.”
Woodland continues to earn respect around the state and the Naugatuck Valley League. Phelps acknowledged the Hawks’ effort.
“All the credit to coach Hunt and Woodland; there’s no seedings in March,” Phelps said. “I knew what to expect from coach Hunt and his players. The tribute to the Woodland kids is that you can tell they want to play for coach Hunt.”
It was the final game for seniors Shane Classey, Anthony D’Agnone, James Giacomazzi, Kingsley, Kenny Koch, Jack Pinho and Taylor Tucciarone. After the game, Hunt lauded the group for continuing to improve the program’s status.
“They’ve taught the younger kids,” Hunt said. “I hope the young kids have learned the lessons they needed to learn from the seniors and as a program we can keep continuing to grow.”