BEACON FALLS — Just like its counterpart on the softball diamond, the Woodland baseball team always finds a way to be in the thick of the Naugatuck Valley League championship race. In each of the last three years, the Hawks have posted no fewer than 14 wins and reached at least the NVL tournament semifinals. This season, Woodland thinks even better fortunes can be in the cards.
Though the Hawks return just five full-time starters from a year ago, they’re confident that they have enough talent to contend for the program’s second NVL championship and make a run into the state tournament.
This confidence comes from the top down, where head coach Joe Steele says his senior leaders—Kyle Georgia, Ryan Genua, and Mike Diurno—not only have the skills to lead the team on the field but also the leadership abilities to help the newcomers step into their roles.
“I have a lot of confidence in their leadership capabilities and their ability to perform,” Steele said. “That’s not a question. We need them to produce for us, especially when we face top-quality pitching. They have to lead by example to show the younger kids how to be disciplined.”
As all three will hit among the top five of the lineup, production from the big trio of seniors will be important to Woodland’s success this season. Georgia hit .343 last season, while Genua and Diurno each contributed 16 RBIs. Those numbers likely will have to increase for the Hawks to achieve the offensive output needed to be contenders.
The trio is confident, though, that the team’s offense will not be a problem this year.
“We’re solid all the way around,” Diurno said. “I think we’ll hit the ball well.”
What is yet to be proven is the team’s defense and pitching staff. At least four new starters will be on the field at all times, and only one pitcher, Georgia, has made a start in his Woodland career.
“We’re a young team,” Steele said. “Experience is a factor. Pitching depth is something we have to establish. Kyle is the only proven returning starter we have. I wouldn’t say the new guys are weaknesses, but more unknowns.”
“We need to find a No. 2 and No. 3 starter,” Genua echoed. “If we can find a diamond in the rough, we’ll be good.”
Georgia was the team’s second starter last season and posted a 7-2 record with a 1.68 ERA and 42 strikeouts. Other than him, no other pitcher on the staff has more than six varsity innings of experience. The Hawks will look toward Genua, juniors Mike Masulli, Anthony Pacileo, and Tom Arsenault, and sophomore Brian Langdon to fill out the pitching staff.
“We’re young,” Georgia said. “We need to learn the Woodland way of baseball. We’re a solid team. If we play the way we have the past couple of weeks [in scrimmages], we’ll be good. I think we’ve tightened up our defense.”
That defense will be headlined by junior catcher Jack DeBiase, junior shortstop/outfielder Ryan Mariotti, junior second baseman Mike Hardy and senior outfielder Lou Enama. Woodland has no definitive answers in left field or at third base, so seniors Ben Kozera and Sean Farrell, along with junior Sean Deegan and sophomore Connor Chura, will all likely see time at those spots.
“If we make routine and ordinary plays, we don’t have to make extraordinary plays,” Steele said. “If we play consistent defense and challenge batters with reasonable pitching, we’ll be competitive and have a chance to win a lot of games.”
Georgia has more specific goals for the team.
“We’re looking forward to April 28 and the Holy Cross game,” he said. “We have it circled on our calendars. And you never want to set your goals low. I would like to get some hardware.”