Hard work paying off for Hawks

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

BEACON FALLS — On one hand, a 6-0 start surprised new Woodland baseball coach Steve Bainer. On the other hand, he knew he had a special group of players when he met them in March.

“You never want to go in saying you think you have a really good team, but I loved the character of our kids,” Bainer said. “From Day 1, you could tell they work hard. I knew we were getting kids who were hard workers. Sometimes it’s coach speak when they say we’re getting better every day, but we really see that.”

Bainer saw another example of that improvement April 28 at Fuessenich Park when the Hawks beat Torrington, 3-0.

“We scored big runs on a first-and-third play because we ran bases in a way that we’ve run them 100 times in practice,” Bainer said. “The kids are taking what we do in practice and implementing it, and there’s nothing better to ask than that.”

That win over the Red Raiders was another dazzling outing for the Hawks’ pitching staff. Freshman Michael Belcher allowed seven hits and a walk with six strikeouts, his third victory of the year. During that stretch, he struck out 24 batters over 19 innings of work without surrendering an earned run.

“If you’d told me that I’d get a freshman who’d beat Oxford, beat Torrington, and go 3-0 with only one earned run combined, I don’t know if you’d get a coach in the state who’d expect that out of a freshman,” Bainer said. “At the same time, he has the poise of a junior or a senior. He’s a special kid.”

Matt Koliani and Tyler Giambra have also been effective as starters, and Cam Heeman has come out of the bullpen a few times as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. Woodland allowed just 11 runs in its first six victories.

Bainer heaped praise on senior catcher Matt Belcher.

“Matt Belcher is the unsung hero of our team right now,” Bainer said. “The way he handles our pitchers — he calls the games to their strengths, he knows our pitchers well, and he has great handle on them to keep them composed.”

That veteran presence will help as the Hawks navigate a rapid-fire schedule over the final few weeks of the season. From April 30 through May 20, Woodland is set to play 13 games. Bainer said his team looks forward to continuing to prove itself.

“Every day in the league you have to prove yourself,” Bainer said. “When you’re in the Copper [Division], every game is a Valley game. They’re all tight games and the records don’t matter. You go into the Iron [Division], every team in the Iron is a good team. We play Holy Cross a couple of times, and they’re solid. Every game is a test, and I think our guys are up for the challenge right now to see where we stack up against other teams in the league.

“Even though we’re currently 6-0, our guys really do want to stay humble,” Bainer continued. “Woodland never gets highlighted in any polls or preseason stories, but the guys want to prove that we belong.”