No panic for Hawks

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BEACON FALLS — After a six-game win streak came to a screeching halt against Holy Cross on April 29, there was no panic for the Woodland baseball team.

The 10-5 defeat to the Crusaders dropped the Hawks to 7-4 on the season, but coach Mike Kingsley still liked his team’s 7-3 record in Naugatuck Valley League play.

“I said, ‘Guys, we’ve been at this point in the season before at 4-4, 3-5, and it’s a must-win game,’” Kingsley said. “‘When you’re in that game at 7-2, it becomes one game in the season. You just hope you’re going to see them again in the playoffs. It’s not a do-or-die game at this point in the season. Obviously you want to win the game, but you need to learn from it.’”

The Crusaders scored five runs in the first inning and never trailed, despite Woodland rallying for 10 hits off Austin Brown, one of the league’s top pitchers. Kyle Simpson, Jason Claiborn and Colby Linnell all had two hits apiece, but the Hawks failed to come up with timely hits.

“We had some opportunities — bases loaded in the sixth and seventh — and just didn’t get a hit when we needed to get back in it,” Kingsley said. “They’re a good team. You can’t fall behind like that against a team like that.”

That’s one of the key lessons for the Hawks as they wind down the regular season and look toward a promising postseason. Woodland got back on track May 2 with an 11-2 rout of Torrington in which Claiborn scattered three hits with seven strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings.

Zach Bedryczuk cracked a two-run homer and added two singles, while Mike Szturma had two hits, a run and an RBI. That victory qualified the Hawks for the state tournament.

“Jason Claiborn pitched a hell of a game for us,” Kingsley said. “He pitched great in a 3-1 loss to Wolcott earlier in the season, and (against Torrington) he looked fantastic. It was only his second time on the mound all year. That’s the problem with having so many pitchers. It’s not a problem, but you have to find the innings for everybody.”

That’ll be Kingsley’s main focus down the stretch — figuring out what his postseason pitching rotation will look like. It takes three wins in five days to win the NVL championship and five victories in less than two weeks to win a state title.

“I want to see who’s going to elevate themselves as the main three guys we’re going to go with on the mound,” Kingsley said. “Who’s going to step up and want the ball come playoff time? I have six guys I’ve been marching out there, but come playoff time, the rotation gets thinner.”

Woodland, who recently had starting outfielder Alex Kalentek return from injury, is set to visit Ansonia, Derby and Watertown this week before returning home for two important divisional games Friday vs. Oxford and May 13 vs. Seymour. The Hawks will play Waterbury Career May 14. The NVL tournament is set to begin May 18.