Woodland not short on arms

Large, diverse pitching staff leads way for Hawks

Woodland’s Justin Butterworth pitches Monday versus Torrington at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Butterworth, who’s started a team-high five games, is part of a deep pitching staff that has seen six different Hawks start this season. -ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Woodland baseball coach Mike Kingsley thinks junior Zach Bedryczuk might be the best pitcher the Hawks have. He’s only started one game.

That’s how deep the Hawks’ pitching staff is this spring, and it’s why Woodland thinks it has a shot to win its first Naugatuck Valley League baseball championship in 11 years.

Six different players have started games this season for Woodland (14-5). The Hawks have allowed seven runs only twice this year. Nobody has more than five starts, and nobody complains a lick about it.

“It’s amazing,” Kingsley said. “I have not had one kid who’s said, ‘Hey, Coach, am I going to pitch this week?’ They rally around whomever I hand the ball to that day. It’s really special. You get that jealousy sometimes. Not here. They just want to win.”

In fact, the Hawks like the fact that they might not even pitch every week with up to seven guys who are capable of starting a game.

“I may not even get one start a week. I may start once every two weeks,” said senior right-hander Zack Graveline, the second baseman who’s made four starts. “But we know that if you do go (on the mound), you’ve gotta go. You have to give it everything you’ve got for that one game. I always try to get out there and throw the whole game. I’m trying to go the distance and save everyone’s arm.”

“It’s nice because I can get a break if my arm isn’t feeling great,” said junior lefty Dante DiRubba, who’s started three times. “It’s also a little stressful because when it’s my start, that’s my time to shine so I can stay in my starting position.”

Senior left-hander and first baseman Matt Szturma, who’s made four starts, said he doesn’t feel any of that stress when he gets the nod.

“We don’t have to stress out thinking we have to win games to get our No. 1 guy back on the hill,” Szturma said. “We know that we have five, six, seven No. 1 guys ready to go the next day. We also know that we can go all-out for five, six, seven innings and know that we have (Bedryczuk or Mike Szturma) who can come in at any time.”

Another benefit of the large and diverse pitching staff is the ability for Woodland to throw different looks at hitters. Matt Szturma, DiRubba, and Justin Butterworth are lefty starters, while Graveline and Justin Marks are right-handers. Bedryczuk and Mike Szturma, who usually come out of the bullpen, are righties.

“It’s great that we have a bunch of lefties because that throws people off, and we can go lefty to righty to make teams adjust,” said Butterworth, who’s started a team-high five games.

Being left-handed is something that makes Graveline and Bedryczuk a little jealous.

“Being a lefty, if you throw 85 or 86 (mph), you’re going somewhere,” said Graveline, who will play next year at Westfield State in Massachusetts. “Righty is so much harder. You need so much more to be able to get guys out.”

“Lefty pitchers, it’s harder to hit off them,” Bedryczuk added. “You have an advantage being a lefty.”

Bedryczuk has entered games several times this year in jams to slam the door and preserve wins for the Hawks. He’s only made one start, but that’s allowed him to play shortstop at an All-NVL level.

“As a shortstop, you have to throw a lot. It saves my arm for shortstop,” Bedryczuk said. “I’m fresh when I come in (to pitch). I don’t pitch a lot, only one or two innings here and there, so I’m fresh every time to throw my hardest and get the outs to finish the game.”

The same can be said for most of Woodland’s pitchers, according to Kingsley.

“All of our pitchers are position players. Being able to come any day with any one of these guys, it allows my guys to play in the field without sore arms,” Kingsley said. “Zach Bedryczuk arguably could be the best pitcher we have on the team, and he’s only started one game. He comes in to get us out of a jam in the sixth or the seventh, and he can go out there every day and play a darn good shortstop for us.”

Kingsley also pointed to the value of junior catcher Colby Linnell, who has caught nearly every game of his career and now calls pitches for the staff.

“One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is the experience we have behind the plate with Colby,” Kingsley said. “He’s started every game for us since his freshman year except the time he lost his teeth. We turned the pitch-calling over to Colby this year, and what a luxury that is. It keeps the flow the game going better.”

Woodland is set to finish the regular season with a crucial game against Seymour, which will determine seeding for the NVL tournament. The game was originally set for Tuesday but was moved to Friday due to severe storms. The NVL tournament is scheduled to start Saturday.

“We feel pretty damn good,” Matt Szturma said. “With our pitching staff and our batting lineup, we feel like we can win every day. We know that when we’re down, we can come back with a big rally. We never get down. We all want to win. We won the (Iron) Division last year and came up a little short this year, but we’re hungry for the (NVL) title.”