MONTVILLE — Two feet was all that prevented the Woodland baseball team from pulling one of the biggest upsets in the state tournament.
Mike Kenney’s blast with a runner on and a one-run deficit in the seventh was caught two feet from the 325-foot fence in left field as No. 4 Montville held off No. 29 Woodland 6-5 in Class M first-round action June 2 in Montville.
“The wall was 325 feet in left, and he hit the ball 323 feet,” Woodland coach Mike Kingsley said. “The kid caught the ball running to the fence with his numbers to the plate. It was an unbelievable catch.”
The Hawks left several scoring opportunities on the bases throughout the afternoon and dug a 6-0 hole for themselves by allowing four unearned runs in the fourth.
Woodland (10-11) failed to score in the first after a two-on, none-out situation and gave up two runs in the bottom half. The deficit stretched to 6-0 in the fourth when Montville benefitted from a pair of errors.
The Indians put runners on first and second on a walk and a dropped third strike before they loaded the bases on an infield error. A bases-clearing triple made it 5-0, and an errant relay throw from the outfield allowed in the sixth run.
But the Hawks began a rally in the top of the fifth. Chris Slavin doubled to lead off the inning, stole third and scored on Jared Grillo’s sacrifice fly to get Woodland on the board.
The Hawks added four runs in the sixth, thanks to a two-run double by Tanner Kingsley. Woodland was in position to draw even but stranded runners on first and third with one out.
“We had them on the ropes,” Mike Kingsley said. “We played well. I’ll tell you one thing: There’s no quit in this group of kids. They battled until the final pitch. We had the tying run on third in the sixth and the tying run on second in the seventh.”
Kenney’s deep fly ball in the seventh nearly gave Woodland the lead but the running catch ended the Hawks’ bid at their first second-round state appearance since 2010.
“That was the furthest he’s hit a ball in his career,” Mike Kingsley said. “If that was at our field, it would have been gone.”
Tanner Kingsley finished with two hits, two RBI and a run, while Sam Merriman added two hits and an RBI. Grillo singled and drove in two runs.
Woodland enjoyed its best season of the last four years and narrowly missed out on the Naugatuck Valley League tournament. The Hawks will have to replace six seniors, including captains Tanner Kingsley and Mike Gondola.
Tanner Kingsley earned All-State and All-NVL honors this season, becoming the first athlete in Woodland history to go All-State in three different team sports in a career. He finished his baseball career with 88 hits — good for second in school history — and led the team in almost every offensive category this spring.
“Somebody will have to replace that, and a senior catcher with all that experience,” Mike Kingsley said. “But I think we have the ingredients to do that.”
Woodland boasted a lineup full of juniors and sophomores this season. Gondola and Kingsley were the only regular senior position players, while Everett Miner and Anthony D’Agnone will leave the pitching ranks. Slavin and Mike Conway will also graduate.
“The senior leadership on this team this year was unbelievable,” Mike Kingsley said. “They’re a great bunch of kids. They lead by example. When you have Mike Gondola and Tanner Kingsley as your captains, you’ve got good captains. I’ve got no complaints at all about this team. We didn’t get where we wanted to go, but it wasn’t because of effort.”
The Hawks will return their entire starting infield, including Tyler Boisvert at third, Merriman at shortstop, Matt Butterworth at second and Grillo at first. Kenney was also an everyday starter in right field, and several other underclassmen saw significant time.
“To be able to play in the postseason, to play on the road and to see how hard these seniors fought, it gives them motivation to want to get back here,” Mike Kingsley said. “I told some of the juniors that we’ll play that team again one day, and they said, ‘Yeah, at home.’”