Valley rivalries provide spark for Hawks

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SEYMOUR — There isn’t much that Woodland boys basketball coach Tom Hunt likes more than rivalry games in the Valley.

The Hawks got their first real taste of Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division play after the calendar turned to 2019 with hard-fought rivalry games against Ansonia and Seymour. Woodland split the games and at the same time encouraged its head coach.

“They’re intense,” Hunt said of the divisional games. “We had Ansonia come in and there was a lot of electricity in the air, and I’m glad we get a rematch with them. Against Seymour, again there was electricity in the air and we were able to get it done. We’re very competitive with the teams around us.”

The Hawks suffered a 66-55 defeat to Ansonia on Jan. 4 before turning around to rout Seymour, 62-45, on Jan. 10. Sandwiched between those games was a 67-53 nonconference victory over Kaynor Tech.

Mickey Meier netted a season-high 21 points against the Chargers, and freshman point guard Jason Palmieri also contributed a season-high 10 points in that contest.

Zack Bedryczuk (20 points), Meier (18 points) and Palmieri (eight points) again led the offensive effort against Kaynor Tech on Jan. 8 before a quality team effort in the rivalry win over Seymour.

Bedryczuk paced the Hawks with 17 points on the road, while Meier had 14, Justin Marks added 11, and Tyler Bulinski tacked on seven in a chippy game against their fiercest rival. Woodland outscored Seymour by 16 points in the second half to pull away.

“We went in with a good game plan and the kids executed,” Hunt said. “They played their hardest and they were rewarded for their hard work, which is nice to see. Sometimes you play as hard as you can and you’re not rewarded for it, but it was nice to be rewarded.”

Woodland (4-5) is a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Oxford away from a winning record near the midway point of the regular season. Hunt has seen a change in the Hawks since the return of Marks from injury after Christmas, giving his team a solid triple-threat.

“Justin Marks is finally getting into basketball mode,” Hunt said. “I can’t think of a guy in the league who works harder than Mickey Meier. We have a true scorer in Zack. When all these things are firing, it looks good.”

Hunt also praised the efforts of the juniors and underclassmen who have given the Hawks some quality depth for the first time in several years.

“Our younger guys are starting to gain some experience and confidence,” Hunt said. “Trey Mastropietro grabs his lunch pail and goes to work every single game. Bulinski is giving us good minutes off the bench. Dan Smith is doing all the little things off the bench. The two freshmen — Jason is starting to understand what’s expected of him at this level, and Nate Bodnar is going to be exciting for four years.”

Woodland will host Derby to finish the first round of divisional play Wednesday before welcoming Torrington on Friday. The Hawks will then prepare for a two-game city stretch against Kennedy on Monday and No. 1-ranked Sacred Heart next Wednesday.