Defensive struggles doom Hawks

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EAST HAVEN — The Woodland softball team has gone as far as its defense has taken it this season. In Tuesday’s Class M state tournament first round game at East Haven, the Hawks couldn’t overcome early defensive blunders.

No. 17 Woodland fell behind No. 16 East Haven early and never recovered as the Hawks fell, 8-3, to end their season.

East Haven scored all eight of its runs in the first three innings, including seven in the first two. The Hawks made two errors to aid the Yellowjackets’ effort.

“We had a difficult first couple of defensive innings,” Woodland coach Loren Luddy said. “We only gave up one run in the last five innings, but we couldn’t make up the deficit.”

The Hawks (15-8) scored all three of their runs in the fourth inning. Emily Wirsing led off with a walk before Angie Wirsing singled. Both scored on Rachel Starkey’s double for Woodland’s first runs. Later in the inning, courtesy runner Courtney Jurzynski scored on Nicole Fowler’s bunt to finish the Hawks’ scoring.

Brianna Pacileo had Woodland’s only other hit off East Haven starter Talia Loda in the fifth inning.

Luddy said the first-round loss displayed the difference in her team based on its defense.

“In the NVL semifinals against Torrington (a 3-1 loss), we settled down and played fantastic defense,” Luddy said. “We only gave up three runs to a very talented Torrington team. We had some of the struggles today that we had all season.”

Luddy credited the team’s senior co-captains, Emily and Angie Wirsing, for helping the Hawks rally even while facing a big deficit in their final game.

“After two rough defensive innings as a team, those were the two that got the game back under control,” Luddy said of the Wirsings. “Emily calmly walks, Angie hits her over, and they both score. They showed the team how to regain composure even when things aren’t going well.”

Kelly Sherman, Alyssa Skibo, and Sam Solomon rounded out what Luddy called “a good group of seniors.”

“Kelly and Alyssa showed the kids that you do need to dive for the ball and fire the ball into home in practice to help your team get better,” Luddy said. “You have two seniors that don’t play every inning hustling in practice, and then nobody else has an excuse to do anything else but hustle. Sam brought a lot of positive energy to the team this year in the dugout and in pinch hitting roles.”

The Hawks will return a number of key contributors, including Brooke Leshin and Pacileo from the right side of the infield, Starkey behind the plate, pitchers Samantha Lee and Steph Kiley, outfielders Natalie Veneri and Fowler, and others.

“The younger players definitely were able to see what teams need to do to win championships,” Luddy said. “Against Torrington in the semifinals, we were close. Charging the ball harder and making diving plays make a difference. They were very much able to see at the end of the season how every little play can make a big difference, especially when you have young pitchers who are always working hard but aren’t overpowering. You really have to back them up big time.”