BEACON FALLS — There aren’t many sure things with this year’s youthful Woodland girls basketball team, but there’s at least one thing that coach Jess Moffo can count on — the ups and downs will keep coming.
That was the case in recent games for the Hawks, who earned three-point victories over Kennedy and Torrington but also squandered leads in losses to Derby and Sacred Heart.
Despite the peaks and valleys of the season — Woodland is 4-9 with seven regular-season games left — Moffo said there’s been one other constant for her Hawks.
“They know they’re improving. They see it on film,” Moffo said. “They know they have to play team basketball. The five people on the court all need to be involved and play hard. That’s the one thing I preach: Play hard.”
One of the high points of Woodland’s season came in a 39-36 win over Torrington on Jan. 18. The Hawks trailed by double digits in the first half, but a strong defensive effort and balanced scoring allowed them to get back into the game.
“It was an emotional win,” Moffo said. “They beat us up in the first few minutes, but we made a few adjustments on defense. Hana Bojka shut down their leading scorer in a box-and-one. Her defense won us the game. She was superb.”
Jill Barbarito led the Hawks against the Red Raiders with nine points, while Andra Bojka added eight and Riley Kane tacked on six.
“Andra is a 14-year-old freshman at the varsity level and getting the job done,” Moffo said. “She’s getting more confidence in her offensive ability.”
Moffo admitted the most satisfying and encouraging part of the win over Torrington is that the Hawks were able to play a full 32 minutes in a tight game.
“We were able to close out a win,” Moffo said. “We hadn’t been able to do that.”
But that wasn’t the case Jan. 23 against Sacred Heart, one of the Naugatuck Valley League’s best teams and the defending league champion. Woodland played toe to toe with the Hearts for nearly three full quarters.
“I told them not to go in scared,” Moffo said. “I said, ‘Just go out, play basketball, and have fun.’ They’re a very good team. We were right with them. We battled with them and grinded defensively. We gave up 15 points in the first half, and I don’t think any other team has done that.”
After holding a 21-18 lead with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, the game slipped away due to a lack of offensive execution. The Hearts outscored the Hawks 29-4 over the final 11 minutes to earn a 47-25 win.
“We missed crucial layups and free throws,” Moffo said. “We were making defensive stops but we just couldn’t close out. Sacred Heart made their run and closed out the game in the fourth quarter.”
On Friday, the Hawks fell to Ansonia, 42-28, in overtime. Andra Bojka, Barbarito and Kane each scored seven points for Woodland.
Despite the struggles, Moffo said the Hawks are still optimistic. Most of their games down the stretch should present opportunities for victories, including a two-game stretch against Oxford and Bulkeley.
Woodland will face tough road games against Naugatuck on Friday and Seymour on Feb. 8, but the Hawks’ other three contests are good home matchups against Derby, Wilby and Kaynor Tech. The young squad, which plays as many as four freshmen at a time, needs to reach eight victories for a state tournament berth.
“They’re excited for the future and for the end of the season,” Moffo said. “We can still make states. No one thinks we can do it, but they have all the faith. They’re working hard and they’re tough.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version published in the Jan. 31 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on a game played after press time.