Woodland returns wealth of experience

Woodland baseball captains Colby Linnell, left, and Zach Bedryczuk will lead the Hawks this season. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — After a 15-5 regular season last year that ranked among the most successful in Woodland baseball history, the Hawks fell flat in the postseason with early exits in both the Naugatuck Valley League and Class M state tournaments.

With most of Woodland’s roster returning and a wealth of varsity experience, though, coach Mike Kingsley and his squad make no bones about their focus for this season.

“Our goals are to compete for an NVL title and to be playing our best ball at the end of the year,” Kingsley said. “Last year I feel like we played our best baseball during the middle of the season, so we have to find a way to get hot and stay hot.”

Woodland won 11 straight games during the middle of last season but fizzled out down the stretch, closing the regular season with a 3-3 mark over the last two weeks. The Hawks lost to eventual Class M champion Seymour in the NVL quarterfinals and fell to Lewis Mills in the Class M second round.

Kingsley feels like one key to being more consistent at the right time is honing plate discipline.

“We need to have quality at-bats — moving runners, two-out hits, not giving away at-bats,” Kingsley said. “Last year I feel like we gave away a lot of at-bats, and we can’t do that. We have to cut down on the strikeouts.”

The Hawks should be competitive in almost every game thanks to an extraordinarily deep pitching staff. They graduated solid starters in Zack Graveline and Matt Szturma, but Kingsley feels as though he has nine pitchers who could start a varsity contest this spring.

Right-hander Zach Bedryczuk and left-hander Justin Butterworth are the two most experienced pitchers in Woodland’s bullpen. They’re joined by righties Mike Szturma, Nick DeLucia and Jason Hicks, as well as four more lefties: Justin Marks, Dante DiRubba, Jason Claiborn and Alex Kalentek.

“Those are all guys who we can march out for a varsity start,” Kingsley said.

Five left-handed pitchers give Woodland a weapon that few other teams can match.

“I don’t know, but if I could bottle it, I’d like to sell it,” Kingsley joked. “It’s so unique. We’ve gone years without having any lefties, and now we have five.”

Most of those pitchers will also see action elsewhere in the field and lineup. Colby Linnell, a co-captain with Bedryczuk, will start at catcher for the fourth straight year. Trey Mastropietro is also among the non-pitchers who should see consistent play this spring.

Above all, experience is the Hawks’ biggest strength.

“All of these guys have played significant innings since their freshman year,” Kingsley said. “We have eight seniors coming back. We’ll go as far as they take us.”

Woodland will open the season with a nonleague game next Monday at Wilbur Cross followed by the home-opener Tuesday against Sacred Heart.