Woodland boys punch ticket to states

Girls’ fate comes down to last regular season game

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BEACON FALLS — A late-season surge launched the Woodland boys basketball team back in the state tournament for the second straight season.

The Hawks won four straight games from Feb. 4-11, including a 71-65 overtime win over Wilby, to clinch a postseason bid. They nearly ended the regular season on a five-game streak but suffered a stinging, 70-64 loss to Wolcott on Thursday.

“They did what we needed to do,” Woodland coach Tom Hunt said. “(Assistant) coach (Mike) Kingsley told them in the locker room (after the loss to Wolcott), ‘Three weeks ago, I don’t think we’re able to hang around with a team that’s good like Wolcott.’ Over the last few weeks, we’ve grown. Guys are starting to step up.”

On senior night against the Eagles, Woodland held a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter against a Wolcott team that won 13 games and a share of the Naugatuck Valley League Iron Division title.

But a string of blown calls by the officials pushed the Hawks too far. On one trip down the floor, Woodland watched a four-point edge evaporate into a two-point deficit when the Hawks picked up a personal foul, a technical foul, and allowed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. They never got back on top.

“We faced a little bit of adversity, and when the calls didn’t go the way we expected, we weren’t able to walk away from it,” Hunt said. “Sometimes good teams are able to play through games where they’re not getting what they expect are good calls.”

Still, it was an encouraging effort for the Hawks in a game they played without second-leading scorer Mickey Meier, who suffered an elbow injury late in the win over Wilby. His status for the state tournament is questionable.

Zach Bedryczuk continued his blistering play down the stretch with a game-high 29 points. He averaged 23.4 points over the final five games of the regular season.

“It’s something we can definitely build off because we were in it the whole game,” Hunt said. “We were winning until the technical foul. There’s enough time between now and the state tournament. We’ll come back into the gym and fine-tune what we need to do.”

Others have played well recently, too. Meier scored a game-high 20 points in the win over Wilby and 13 in a testy, 68-58 win over rival Seymour on Feb. 8. Freshman point guard Jason Palmieri averaged 12.6 points during the final five games, and Justin Marks scored 15 against Wilby.

The Hawks finished their regular season earlier than most other teams in the state, so they face more than a two-week layoff between the Wolcott game and the first round of the Division IV state tournament on March 4. Woodland will be on the road as one of the lowest seeds on the field.

“Now we’re in the tournament — it’s win and advance,” Hunt said. “It’s a whole new mentality. We have to do whatever we can to win however we can. Ugly or beautiful, it just needs to be a victory to move on to the next round.”

Woodland girls on brink: Similarly to the boys, the Woodland girls made a late-season push to challenge for a state tournament berth. The Hawks have to defeat Kaynor Tech on Friday to lock up a bid in the Class M state tournament.

A victory by Woodland will send the Hawks to the play-in round next weekend for the right to face one of the tournament’s top seeds in the first round.

Woodland put itself in position to qualify by winning three of four games by an average of 22 points. The Hawks’ only loss during that stretch was a 52-43 defeat against Seymour on Feb. 8.

In a 55-42 win over Bulkeley on Feb. 9, Gabby Mastropietro netted a game-high 17 points. Hana Bojka scored 10 points apiece in the victories over Bulkeley and Wilby on Feb. 11.