Hawks look to turn the corner

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Woodland’s Eric Buetel (40) lays in a basket off the glass Jan. 17 versus Wilby in Beacon Falls. Wilby held on to defeat Woodland, 53-52. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland’s Eric Buetel (40) lays in a basket off the glass Jan. 17 versus Wilby in Beacon Falls. Wilby held on to defeat Woodland, 53-52. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Last week may have been a turning point for the Woodland boys basketball team. And this week has the potential for more positives.

The Hawks bounced back from a loss to Naugatuck on Jan. 11 with a win over Seymour on Jan. 14, followed by a hard-fought loss to one of the best teams in the state. Woodland took Wilby, one of the state’s top 10 teams, down to the final possession in a 53-52 loss last Friday.

In addition, senior forward Shane Classey returned to the lineup on Friday after missing the last six months due to an ACL injury. That’s welcomed news for a team that entered the season lacking varsity experience and returning only one starter from a year ago.

“Shane gives us more senior leadership,” Woodland head coach Tom Hunt said. “He plays 100 miles per hour with 110 percent and he’s all over the place on defense.”

Classey’s return, coupled with another brilliant scoring effort from Tanner Kingsley (24 points) and stingy defense that kept Wilby’s top scorers, Denzell Mitchell and Taifa Wright, in check, made for many bright spots that shone despite the loss.

Woodland’s Sam Merriman (21) shoots as Wilby’s Mohammed Serdah defends Jan. 17 in Beacon Falls. Wilby defeated Woodland, 53-52. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland’s Sam Merriman (21) shoots as Wilby’s Mohammed Serdah defends Jan. 17 in Beacon Falls. Wilby defeated Woodland, 53-52. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“We went in with the defensive mindset that we had to limit their touches,” Hunt said of Wilby’s high-scoring duo, which averages more than 47 points per game. Mitchell and Wright combined for just 28 against the Hawks.

Even though Kingsley’s last-second shot went halfway down before popping out at the end of the Wilby game, his ability to put up points has been exactly what the Woodland coaching staff has asked. Kingsley also had 23 against Seymour last week after scoring his 1,000th career point Jan. 7 against Holy Cross.

“Tanner is the heart and soul of this team,” Hunt said. “He’ll do anything he can to help this team win, and his scoring is what we’ve needed.”

Despite Woodland’s 3-7 start, its first 10 games have allowed several players to gain experience on the court. Senior Jack Pinho has been able to get a better feel for the point guard position at the varsity level, while junior Austyn Brown (a transfer from Holy Cross) and sophomore big man Eric Beutel have also become regulars.

“We’re starting to hit our stride, we have some guys who now have some varsity experience through half a season,” Hunt said.

The Hawks entered this week 3-1 in the Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division and in the thick of the race for their first-ever division title. Woodland (3-8) stumbled Thursday night in a 69-66 loss to Derby. Kingsley led all scorers with 39 points. Woodland has a home game against St. Paul on Friday.

“The games this week are huge,” Hunt said. “If we can win these games, we would control our own destiny.”