Hawks shake off sluggish start

BEACON FALLS — A change in the approach at the plate and an improvement in efficiency on the mound have turned a sluggish start for the Woodland baseball team into an early-season hot streak.

The Hawks picked up their fourth consecutive victory Tuesday, earning a 12-6 win over Torrington to improve to 5-2 on the year.

“Good pitching, not walking guys and not striking out at the plate — when you put the ball in play, good things happen,” Woodland coach Mike Kingsley said. “(Tuesday), we had two or three two-strike hits. We weren’t getting those in the beginning of the year. We’re making teams make plays. We’re just playing good baseball right now.”

Colby Linnell enjoyed a breakout game against Torrington by finishing a single short of the cycle. He drove in half of the Hawks’ 12 runs with his effort at Fuessenich Park. Jason Claiborn went 3-for-5 with two RBI, and Mike Szturma tacked on two hits.

“Colby Linnell broke out Tuesday,” Kingsley said. “He had been hitting the ball well but didn’t have anything to show for it. Jason Claiborn has been the catalyst. He finds his way on base two or three times a game and finds a way to score.”

Woodland’s pitching has also improved of late, despite a tough day Tuesday which included sleet and snow midway through the contest. During the four-game winning streak, the Hawks have allowed just three runs per game.

The streak began last Wednesday with a 6-2 win over Watertown, when Matt Szturma struck out four while scattering six hits. It continued with a 14-2 mercy-rule win over Goodwin Tech last Thursday thanks to Dante DiRubba’s eight-strikeout performance. Justin Butterworth was impressive in his first start of the season last Friday against Sacred Heart, striking out six and allowing four hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 3-2 win.

“He could have finished the game if not for the pitch count,” Kingsley said of Butterworth. “He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. He’ll be tough to beat.”

Zak Graveline plated the game-winning run against the Hearts in the bottom of the sixth with a double down the left-field line to score Zach Bedryczuk. Graveline and Bedryczuk have been among Woodland’s two most consistent hitters so far this spring. Bedryczuk also earned the save in that game.

Kingsley has been impressed with his team’s play of late, both physically and mentally.

“We’re still relatively young, but experience-wise some of these juniors have been playing since they were freshmen,” Kingsley said. “They’re seasoned players at this point. The moment isn’t too big for them. These guys don’t get uptight. We’ve come from behind in two wins. We’ve held on in close games. We’ve extended leads when we should extend the lead.

“It’s really been a team effort. We’ve been using 12, 13, 14 guys a game, whether it’s pinch-running or pinch-hitting or defensive subs. It’s been a good group effort.”

Woodland is set for another test Wednesday against Oxford. The Hawks will venture out of league on Friday against East Granby before visiting Crosby on Monday. Woodland will return home next Wednesday to host rival Naugatuck.