BEACON FALLS — For the fourth time in five games to start the season, the Woodland boys were locked in a one-possession battle down the stretch in Tuesday night’s Candy Cane Classic semifinal against Ansonia.
For the first time in those four games, the Hawks weren’t able to pull through. The Chargers’ clutch free throw shooting and Woodland’s sloppy play over the final four minutes were too much as Ansonia prevailed, 53-49.
After a miserable first half in which the Hawks (3-2) accumulated a 25-12 deficit at the break, they turned around the game with a strong third quarter. Trailing, 29-15, Woodland went on a 15-6 run to close the quarter.
Ryan Angeloszek, who had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, converted all five of his free throws in the quarter while Billy Alfiere, who scored a game-high 16 points, hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer with 1:31 left in the period to close the gap to 32-30.
Ansonia’s Rayshawn Pender hit a 3-pointer in response to expand the lead to 35-30 after the third, but it was a successful quarter for Woodland to get back into the game.
While the offense finally hit its stride, the defense continued to help Woodland stay in the game. Dan Giacomazzi took four charges in the paint during the game to limit Ansonia’s interior production.
“He’s an intangible,” Woodland coach Tom Hunt said of Giacomazzi. “He plays defense, he gets in the passing lanes. He knows his role, which is to be the stopper on defense and to slow the other team’s middle guys. He’s undersized sometimes, but he makes up for it in heart and hustle.”
The Hawks started the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run to take a 40-37 lead with 4:51 to play. Alfiere hit two more 3-pointers, the last of which put Woodland up, 38-37.
“When his shots are falling, there’s nobody better in the league,” Hunt said of Alfiere. “He just needs to get his stroke. When he does that, there’s nobody with more confidence in the NVL.”
But on Woodland’s next five possessions, it came up with just one made free throw and three turnovers to allow the Chargers to reclaim the momentum.
During that stretch, Ansonia went on a 7-1 run to pull back ahead, 44-41, with 2:52 left. The teams traded buckets down the stretch as Tanner Kingsley scored all seven of his points inside the final three minutes to keep Woodland close.
But the Chargers were 6-for-8 from the free throw line in the quarter while the Hawks were 4-for-7 to help ice the game.
“We are becoming battle-tested,” Hunt said. “There’s not a game that we don’t think we’ll be there at the finish line. At halftime, the coaches talked about trying to keep it close so we could be there at the end. We just didn’t execute at the end. When we were tied in the fourth, we came up empty on three-straight possessions. You can’t do that against good NVL teams.”
The first half was dreadful for Woodland. After taking a 5-2 lead early in the first quarter, Ansonia finished the quarter on a 12-2 run to take a 14-7 advantage. The Chargers outscored the Hawks, 11-5, in the second quarter to take a 13-point lead into the locker room.
Woodland shot just 4-for-17 (23 percent) from the field in the half, including 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
“We had a lot of great looks,” Hunt said. “There are going to be times when we know the shots aren’t falling. We’ve been preaching that if the shots aren’t falling, we had to step it up on the defensive end. If we didn’t play defense, that game really could have gotten away from us early.”
The Hawks were set to play Oxford in the consolation game of the Candy Cane Classic on Wednesday. Woodland will next be in action on Tuesday when it hosts Wolcott before beginning a tough stretch of interdivision games at Crosby on Jan. 6.