SEYMOUR — Woodland’s first Naugatuck Valley League baseball tournament berth since 2010 was there for the taking in the last week of the season, but three opportunities slipped away from the Hawks.
The final chance came last Saturday at Seymour’s French Park, where Wildcats starter Nick Kuzia tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout to eliminate Woodland from league tournament contention with a 6-0 defeat.
Seymour, which according to coach Bob Kelo made just 28 errors during its 15-1 start to the season, committed 16 errors during a recent three-game skid. The ‘Cats made only one miscue Saturday, and Kuzia rendered it harmless.
Kuzia struck out five and walked. He stranded five runners, including three in scoring position.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Kuzia said. “I lost command a couple of times but I came back and got mentally focused.”
He also helped himself at the plate, where he went 3-for-4 with two runs. Kuzia and Jake Walkinshaw led off the bottom of the first with consecutive singles and both came around to score — Walkinshaw on Dan Godette’s ground ball to third and Kuzia on Jaylen Kelley’s single to center — to give Seymour a 2-0 lead.
The Wildcats chased Woodland starter Everett Miner with just one out in the first after he allowed three hits and a walk. Tyler Boisvert recorded a strikeout and a groundout to escape a bases-loaded jam in the first, but two runs were all Kuzia needed.
“Our starter came out and didn’t throw strikes, and when he did they were get-me-over strikes that were hit hard,” Woodland coach Mike Kingsley said. “You can’t do that against the best team in the league.”
Boisvert went 5 2/3 innings and allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Woodland committed five errors, including three on throws.
Kuzia, meanwhile, escaped jams in the fourth and fifth. With runners on first and second and one out in the fourth, Kuzia induced a foul popup and a groundout to maintain the shutout. The following inning, he plunked consecutive batters with two outs before recording an inning-ending strikeout.
“I actually feel more comfortable with guys in scoring position,” Kuzia said. “I just feel like I can go right at the batter and trust my defense.”
Matt Butterworth, Tanner Kingsley and Sam Merriman notched Woodland’s three hits. The Hawks went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
“We just didn’t hit the ball when we had our opportunities, and we uncharacteristically threw the ball all over the place today,” Mike Kingsley said. “We haven’t done that all season.”
Woodland (10-10) lost its last three NVL contests, including a 7-5 defeat to Derby on May 19 and a 3-2 loss to St. Paul the following day, to finish a game outside the league tournament.
The game against Seymour was surrounded by uncertainty until the first pitch due to repeated postponements and the struggle of rescheduling the game with the looming tourney, Woodland’s prom and Memorial Day.
Mike Kingsley, though, didn’t blame any of those issues for his team’s performance Saturday.
“These kids are 17 years old,” he said. “If you can’t get up for a game to get into the NVL tournament, you don’t deserve to win. Seymour was better than us today.”
The Hawks will await their placement in the Class M tournament, which begins with the qualifying round Saturday and the first round Monday.