WATERBURY — Three-pointers and alley-oop dunks are nice but the most effective shot in any tournament, winner-take-all scenario occurs at the free throw line. Games are won or lost at the charity stripe.
Woodland proved that theory over the weekend at the Naugatuck Valley League boys tournament as the Hawks came within a whisker of knocking off the number two seed Wilby Wildcats.
On paper the Hawks probably had no business being on the same court after getting dismantled by 22 points during the regular season to the 17-3 Wildcats. But there they were, the 11-9 Hawks, tied 43-43 with Wilby at the seven minute mark of the fourth period. The Wildcats managed to hang on to a 61-57 win but the Hawks’ accuracy (23 of 26) at the foul line was the reason the game hung in the balance until the final minute of play.
Woodland surprisingly broke out on top building a 12-8 lead at the end of the first period. David Uhl (11 points) took a pass from Dan Giacomazzi (seven rebounds) and hit a pull-up jumper in the lane. Tanner Kingsley (19 points) hit one from the top of the key. The Hawks completed the six-point run to take over the lead when Steve Baeder hit one at the buzzer to end the period.
Wilby turned up the intensity in the second period outscoring Woodland by an 18-8 margin.
“We did dig ourselves a bit of a hole at the end of the second period,” Woodland head coach Tom Hunt said. “We allowed them to score three times in the last minute of the half to give them the momentum. And we always preach to finish out each period strong but we didn’t do that in the second period.”
With 55 seconds left in the half Wilby’s Tom King (11 points) hit a shot out on the wing and then came away with a steal for a quick bucket. Down the other end Mike Omagbon (16 points) blocked a shot and took it coast-to-coast to give Wilby a 26-20 lead at the break.
“We felt coming in here that if we kept the score in the 50s we had a pretty good chance,” Hunt said. “Holding them to just 26 in the first half had us on track. If it got into a foot race up and down the floor we would be in trouble.”
Ryan Angeloszek (12 points, seven rebounds, four assists) made sure Wilby didn’t get too far out in front in the third period as he knocked down three the hard way at the foul line.
Later in the period, Angeloszek hit a runner in the lane to cut the deficit at 39-37. Billy Alfiere (nine points) picked up his fourth foul and Kirk Chamenko came up huge with a pair of blocked shots.
Woodland hit on 7 of 8 at the free throw line in the period to the Wildcats (2 of 6) and Kingsley tied the game at 39-39 with a pair at the line.
“When it came time to go to the free throw line we did our job and knocked down our shots,” Hunt said.
Walter Wright hit a jumper in the lane as time expired to give Wilby a slight 41-39 lead heading into the final period.
Wilby couldn’t shake loose from Woodland as the Hawks stayed red-hot hitting 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth period. The Wildcats were just 12 of 21 in the final period and 16 of 32 for the game.
Kingsley and Chamenko went to the bench with four fouls midway through the period for the Hawks as Wilby started to pull away. With 4:56 left in the game the Wildcats held a 52-43 advantage.
The Hawks would not go quietly though.
Alfiere put ended a run of three straight possessions with turnovers when he nailed a three from the corner. Kingsley came back in and hit four straight at the foul line.
Dave Uhl took it the length of the floor for a bucket and hit the ensuing foul shot cutting the deficit at 58-53 with 1:30 left.
Alfiere canned a free throw and then scored down on the baseline to make it a 59-57 game with less than 50 seconds to play. Wilby hit on just seven of its final 14 free throws but it was enough to hold off the Hawks by a slim 61-57 margin.
“I think once we get back into practice we will be able to stress the positives that came out of this game and help us move forward as we prepare for the state tournament,” added Hunt.
No. 18 Woodland is scheduled to play at No. 15 Bloomfield on March 6 at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the Class M tournament.