Surprising start for Hawks no surprise at all

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Woodland freshman pitcher Samantha Lee winds up for a delivery versus St. Paul April 14. Lee is well on her way to joining the list of elite Woodland pitchers. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER
BEACON FALLS — This wasn’t supposed to happen … but it’s happening.

With their up-and-down, come-from-behind, 11-10 win over Wolcott on a wet Tuesday afternoon in Beacon Falls, the Hawks moved to 8-0 on the season.

But wait, how is Woodland 8-0? The defending Naugatuck Valley League champion lost five starters to graduation and had a pitching staff with a grand total of zero varsity innings of experience coming into this season.

Yeah, well, it’s Woodland softball. Loren Luddy’s girls win—every year.

On Tuesday, the Hawks won in a fashion they haven’t resorted to since—well, ever—by turning a tough day of pitching into a fantastic display of clutch hitting.

Senior captain Kara Hames hit a walk-off double to left-center field to score junior Emily Wirsing with the winning run to beat Wolcott (5-2) and stay undefeated.

Woodland’s Brooke Leshin scores against St. Paul April 14, as the Hawks defeated the Falcons 15-0. With a win over Watertown on Monday, Woodland improved to an unexpected 8-0 start. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER

Woodland trailed, 10-9, heading into the final frame. Senior captain Lindsay Boland started the rally with a single before Wirsing walked. Angie Wirsing stroked a single to score Boland and tie the game at 10 before Hames’ one-out winner.

But the rally was more than a two-run comeback in the last of the seventh. The Eagles had taken a 10-7 lead in the top of the sixth when they scored six runs. But the Hawks came back with two in the bottom half of the inning to pull to within one run.

Boland contributed a home run earlier in the game for the Hawks, who aren’t used to having to score 11 runs in a game to win—not with the fabulous pitching staff the Black and Gold has enjoyed since the varsity program started in 2003.

Check out the list: Tara Shingola, Adrienne Miller, Monique Peterson, Kelley Mollor, Katie Alfiere. Those pitchers rarely made it necessary that the Hawks’ bats supply double-digit runs to win.

Woodland hasn’t needed to pile on the runs for most of its wins this season, either. Freshman Samantha Lee might be on her way to joining the aforementioned list as she has pitched remarkably well in her rookie season.

Lee was fantastic in the Hawks’ first test of the season Monday when she hurled a six-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Watertown. In that game, Woodland only managed two hits—but they both came in the top of the seventh as Emily Wirsing reached on a one-out single before scoring on Hames’ game-winning triple.

For opponents, that might be a reason to say, “Uh, oh,” because the Hawks have shown they can win with pitching and offense—and clutch varieties of each.

For as surprising the 8-0 start might be on the surface—down two all-state players and three other infielders—maybe nobody should be surprised at all. Time for some numbers:

With the 8-0 start, Woodland has already guaranteed itself a berth in the Class M state tournament. The Hawks are now 9-for-9 in qualifying for states.

Counting back to the start of last season, Woodland is 30-4 in its last 34 games.

Wait, let’s count back further. Since the start of 2009, the Hawks are 51-10.

Fine, one more time. From the beginning of 2008 to the present, Woodland is 69-15 for a winning percentage of .821.

Oh yeah, and the Hawks have never had less than 12 wins in a season.

There are certainly more tests for Woodland in the near future. The Hawks face some of the league’s best pitchers in the next week with games against Seymour on Thursday, Naugatuck on Monday and Holy Cross on Wednesday.

But for now, the Hawks are riding high. Should we be surprised? Maybe—but then again, probably not.