The Naugatuck and Woodland boys basketball teams may be heading in different directions, but they do share one thing in common — a bench that is making an impact.
The Greyhounds are fighting for a postseason berth. They are 6-8 and two wins away from qualifying for the Class LL state tournament.
Naugatuck lost Jan. 25 to Torrington, 61-41, but came right back and picked up back-to-back wins over Derby, 66-38, on Jan. 27, and Ansonia, 63-54, on Wednesday night.
“We are definitely a work in progress,” Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson said. “Every time we think we have it figured out the growing pains return. But I’m excited about the play of our bench guys, who are coming in and taking advantage of the opportunity they are being given.”
The Hawks (1-12) are in the middle of a rebuilding season. Although they find themselves out of the running for the postseason there is excitement in Beacon Falls as an up-and-coming group of underclassmen have been making a statement lately.
“We are very encouraged by the production we are getting off the bench,” Woodland head coach Tom Hunt said. “Ryan Swanson, a sophomore, is one of those kids who makes all the hustle plays. He may not show up on the box score, but he fills the stat sheet with the rebounds and his defensive play.”
The Greyhounds have established a productive lineup with Corey Plasky and Josh McFarland showing consistent scoring ability. Shane Swierbitowicz has made his presence felt under the basket and Jean Lukau-Mbalandaka has emerged as a double-figure scorer. Tyler Deitelbaum is an all-around player on offense and defense, and the Greyhounds have been getting some inspiring play off the bench.
McFarland led Naugatuck against Ansonia with 13 points. Swierbitowicz and Plasky added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Mbalandaka led the way in the win over Derby with 17 points. Plasky added 11 points as the Greyhounds had the game well in hand with a 35-16 lead at the half.
Elijah Robinson had eight points and Jamar White had seven points versus Derby. They have been a welcome addition to the offense with Alijah Garris and Andre Trosan showing the ability to go to the hoop, as well.
Swierbitowicz and McFarland added seven points each and Deitelbaum chipped in with six points. The bench did their part as well with junior Ritvik Mahumor knocking down a 3-pointer for the final points of the contest.
Wilson said the team needs to remain focused heading into the homestretch of the season.
“We can’t worry about who we have on our schedule next,” Wilson said. “We need to stay focused and worry about our game. We have to be patient. We are roller coasting a lot. We play real well for five minutes and the next three minutes we are not the same basketball team.
“We need to find a way to put a full 32 minutes together. We have the talent and we have the players. Now it’s a matter of developing that confidence to be consistent.”
Woodland has shown signs of coming on lately and got into the win column for the first time Wednesday with a 65-54 victory over Watertown. The Hawks led Watertown 17-12 after the first quarter and never looked backed.
Sophomore shooting guard Zack Bedryczuk scored a game-high 25 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, to pace the Hawks’ offense. Dylan Sender had 16 points, and Rich Rousseau added 10 points.
Prior to the Watertown game, the Hawks held a lead at halftime only twice, including in a 49-45 loss to Wolcott on Jan. 25. Bedryczuk led the way with 19 points as the Hawks held a 27-22 advantage at the half.
Michey Meier added nine points with Alex Rindos chipping in with six points. Sender and Adem Rifati had four points each, and sophomore Justin Marks added three points.
“Michey is another sophomore whose upside is really good,” Hunt said. “He’s a transfer from Holy Cross and just became eligible. Another younger player off the bench is freshman Mike Szturma, who has scored in just about every game he’s suited up for varsity.”
The Hawks are still having trouble against the upper echelon of the NVL. They dropped a 74-33 decision to Kennedy on Jan. 27 and fell to Holy Cross, 80-59, on Monday.
Sender had nine in the loss to Kennedy with Rousseau adding six points, and John Frasco chipping in four points off the bench.
In Monday’s loss to the Crusaders, the Hawks were only outscored 40-35 in the second half. Bedryczuk led the way with 12 points. Sender and Meier added 10 points each. Brendan Rowley had nine points with Szturma and Kyle Macek adding five points each.
This week wraps up with Woodland traveling to Naugatuck on Friday to take on the Greyhounds.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version published in the Feb. 3 print edition of the Citizen’s News to include games played on Feb. 1.