BEACON FALLS — With three games left in the regular season, each one looms large as the Woodland boys basketball team looks to secure a berth in the Division IV state tournament.
The Hawks (6-11) need to win two of their final three games to qualify for the tourney. The final stretch starts Thursday at Wolcott. Woodland closes out the regular season next week at Kaynor Tech on Feb. 25 and home to Wilby on Feb. 27.
First-year head coach John Mariano has assembled a strong unit that has shown diversity on offense. The Hawks, who went 5-5 over the first half of the season, are 4-3 in games when three or more players score in double digits and 2-1 when four players reach double figures.
Lately, the Hawks have struggled to find kind that consistency and dropped six of their last seven games.
“It’s never easy to go through a coaching transition,” Mariano said. “We are primarily a man-to-man on defense now and running a motion offense, so it’s a huge learning curve for them. But the kids have been fantastic, embracing it, working hard and playing together as a team.”
Woodland dropped three straight games, starting Feb. 7 with an 81-44 loss at undefeated Naugatuck. Jason Palmieri led the way for Woodland with 15 points and Nate Bodnar added 13.
Despite falling behind early, the Hawks displayed determination in battling for every loose ball until the final horn.
“There have been games were we haven’t succeeded,” Mariano said. “I keep telling them that it’s a process and we are making strides. We have to trust in the system that it will all come together and not give up. That is the one encouraging thing I’m seeing, is they are not giving up.”
On Feb. 11, Woodland held a 23-22 halftime lead over Derby, but the Red Raiders outscored the Hawks 14-8 in the third quarter on their way to a 46-42 win. Palmieri led the Hawks with 13 points and Nate Smith added 10.
Woodland lost another close game, 61-58, Feb. 13 at Seymour. The Hawks took a 45-44 edge heading into the final quarter, but for the sixth time in the last seven games the Woodland effort fell short. Smith scored a team-high 19 points. Rob Moriarty was the only other double-digit scorer for the Hawks with 15 points.