The Naugatuck Valley League baseball tournament might be as wide-open as any in recent memory.
Holy Cross, Wolcott, St. Paul and Woodland are jockeying for the top four spots in the tourney, which is set to start Monday.
The Hawks are 14-3 in league play with one game to go. They trail only Holy Cross (15-2) in league wins. Wolcott is 14-2 in the league standings and St. Paul is 13-4.
Woodland coach Mike Kingsley isn’t just focused on the other three top teams that gave the Hawks trouble earlier this season. He thinks the rest of the field could be just as dangerous.
“It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure,” Kingsley said. “I think any team that’s in this tournament can win this tournament. There’s a lot of talent in the NVL this year. We have to go out and prove ourselves and that we can beat a team we haven’t beaten yet.”
Woodland has been one of the league’s hottest teams since a 1-3 start to the year that included a 3-1 loss at Wolcott and an 8-3 loss at St. Paul. Over their ensuing 14-1 stretch, the Hawks outscored opponents, 137-28. Included in that hot streak were five shutouts, three games in which they allowed one run, and four others in which they gave up two runs.
That success on the mound gives Kingsley and his veteran Hawks reason to be confident entering the league tournament, especially if they earn one of the top four seeds and a home quarterfinal.
If rain delays condense the tournament into a stretch of three games in three or four days, Woodland could be set up well with its deep pitching staff.
“I think the team that has the pitching for a short tournament is going to be successful, and I feel confident with what we have,” Kingsley said. “Pitching depth is a key to any tournament, and we’ve had guys like Jason Claiborn, Mike Szturma, Dante DiRubba, Zach Bedryczuk and Justin Butterworth all pitch great for us.”
Naugatuck looms as the preeminent members of the next tier of tournament contenders. The Greyhounds are 12-4 in the NVL with one game to play and look like a strong fifth seed — potentially higher depending on results of the final games.
They’re also on a hot streak, capping a 7-1 stretch with a 5-0 victory over Ansonia May 15. Nate Deptula tossed a no-hitter, striking out eight to lead the Greyhounds.
Still, Naugy coach Tom Deller doesn’t feel as though his team is close to its peak. Naugy’s league losses are all to teams higher in the standings.
“We just want to be playing well at the right time,” Deller said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet. We pitch adequately, but we have to hit. We have to outscore other teams. We can’t expect our pitchers to go out and throw shutouts and limit teams to two or three runs. We don’t hit consistently in big games, and that’s been a topic of conversation since the first day of tryouts.”
In contention for the other three spots in the eight-team tournament are Oxford (10-7), Watertown (9-8), Sacred Heart (9-8) and Seymour (7-8). Barring any rescheduled dates, the tournament is set to begin Monday with home quarterfinals.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version published in the May 16 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on the results games played after press time.