Slow start in the past

Hawks rebound to make states  

BEACON FALLS — Woodland boys basketball coach Tom Hunt didn’t need to be all that creative in his pregame speech before the Hawks’ game against Derby last Thursday night. The script had already pretty much been written for him.

“We got beat down there, so we had a little payback on our minds,” Hunt said. “You mix that in with senior night and the fact that we could make states. I said in the pregame that I couldn’t think of any more motivation that they needed for that night.”

That motivation translated into an 80-54 victory — Woodland’s eighth of the year, good enough to qualify the Hawks for their fourth straight state tournament appearance.

The win didn’t come as easily as the final score might indicate. The Red Raiders jumped out to a 9-0 lead and held a 14-9 advantage after the first quarter. Once the Hawks settled down, though, they breezed to the victory.

“I saw some butterflies from the inexperienced guys,” Hunt said. “But we ended up winning by 26, so it really was a culmination of everything coming together.”

Four Hawks reached double figures in scoring. Tanner Kingsley led the way with 20 points while Austyn Brown added 19, Shane Classey tacked on 17 and Eric Beutel contributed 11. Kingsley also dished out 10 assists and Beutel snagged seven rebounds.

Woodland entered its final five games needing three victories to continue its state tournament streak. The Hawks knocked off Ansonia on Feb. 7 before they dropped a 59-55 decision to Watertown on Feb. 11. They rebounded to earn a 55-30 win at Seymour on Feb. 12 and sealed the bid against Derby.

This berth is different than the Hawks’ last three, Hunt said.

“It will be a goal of the program to make the state tournament every year, and we hope we can be a staple. But definitely with our inexperience starting this year, to get the eight wins is a huge notch on these kids’ belts,” Hunt said. “They learned on the go.”

The Hawks stumbled to a 1-5 start to the season, due in part to the inexperience of four starters and the late start of three football players who had only one day of practice before the season opener. They ended the season by splitting their last 14 games.

Kingsley leads the team with a 21.3 scoring average and became the school’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season. No other player averages double-figure scoring, but upperclassmen such as Brown and Anthony D’Agnone came on strong throughout the second half of the season.

“With Tanner shouldering the majority of the load, Anthony D’Agnone was the guy who was the constant all year,” Hunt said. “He was there offensively to make a shot and know his role. He rebounded and played defense, and I feel like he’s been the X-factor sometimes to get us over the hump.”

Woodland could have made a push to qualify for the Naugatuck Valley League tournament but suffered a 67-48 loss in the regular-season finale at St. Paul. Kingsley scored 16 and Brown scored 10, but the Hawks spotted the Falcons a lead and never came all the way back.

Hunt said that loss will serve as a lesson entering state tournament play. Woodland (8-12) will open up on the road March 11 against an opponent to be determined.

“We talked after we went to St. Paul, and that was a game we let them get a head start on us,” Hunt said. “We said that we were going to be road warriors the rest of the year, and we can’t spot home teams double-digit leads and just get that back. I think they understand we’ll need to come out with more intensity to start a game.”

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