By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — The Woodland baseball team lost its first game of the season — twice — and coach Steve Bainer hopes the brief midseason slump turns into a wakeup call as the postseason approaches.
The Hawks started the season 11-0 thanks to a dominant pitching staff and a timely offense, but they tripped up twice against Naugatuck and St. Paul in a tough stretch of the season.
On May 8 in Beacon Falls, the Greyhounds originally came away with a 6-4 victory in an emotional game that saw two players ejected after a hard tag at home plate and multiple protests lodged by Bainer. His final protest, a CIAC pitch count rule violation by Naugy in the seventh inning, resulted in Woodland being awarded a forfeit victory.
Despite being the Hawks’ 12th win, Bainer saw it as a defeat.
“We lost, and that’s how we treated it,” Bainer said. “We needed to learn from what happened.”
In the following game, a rematch of the Hawks’ early-season win over title contender St. Paul, Woodland took a 2-0 lead over the Falcons into the fifth inning. Aided by timely hitting and some defensive mistakes, St. Paul scored seven runs to earn a 7-2 win and knock the Hawks from the ranks of the unbeaten — again.
Bainer noted that his coaching staff focused on ways to improve following the two disappointing results.
“Our narrative this week has been about punching and counterpunching,” Bainer said. “Against Naugatuck and St. Paul, we scored early, and then our bats go to sleep, and we don’t have an answer for it. The message we’ve been giving to the guys is that we need to be able to sustain the punch back. If you have aspirations of winning the league or being competitive in the state tournament, you have to be able to punch back. You can’t assume you’ll be in the driver’s seat in every game.”
The Hawks’ offense hasn’t been lame, though. Zach Drewry has been the team’s hottest hitter, driving in three runs against Thomaston on May 7, two more against Naugy and another vs. St. Paul. Also in the nonconference win over the Bears, Matt Belcher went 3-for-4 while Tyler Giambra hit a solo homer. Giambra tallied two hits against the Falcons.
Woodland squeaked out a 2-1 victory over Ansonia on May 12 to stay perfect in Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division play. Ryan Montini was the latest pitcher to propel the Hawks, scattering five hits with six strikeouts to earn the win. Montini also earned the win over Thomaston.
Giambra, Cam Heeman and Michael Belcher have also pitched well of late.
“We have guys who throw strikes, which helps,” Bainer said. “You can’t defend a walk, and we’ve been good about not doing that. We’ve played pretty solid defense most of the year, too.”
Woodland is set to play five games in the final seven days of the regular season, facing Holy Cross, Derby, Oxford and Seymour before hosting Waterbury Career on May 20 to conclude the slate. The NVL tournament begins May 22, and Bainer knows the Hawks’ bats will have to get hot if they want a shot at their first league title since 2007.
“Offensively, I’d like to see us swing it more consistently,” Bainer said. “Our guys are taking good swings and sometimes hitting atom balls, and other times we’re just not stringing hits together and driving in runners on base. We’re waiting on that perfect storm of things to come together offensively.”