The Hawks have been one of the Naugatuck Valley League’s surprise teams out of the gate, winning their first three games for the first time since 2007 — the same year Woodland won its only NVL baseball championship.
The hot start hasn’t been easy. The Hawks have trailed in all three of their victories, including 2-0 to Sacred Heart in the sixth and 6-5 to Wolcott in the seventh. Late rallies helped Woodland get over the top in both games.
“I’ve already found out a lot about my team this year,” Hawks coach Mike Kingsley said. “I turned to my coaches when I saw how we were playing and we knew that win or lose, we’ve already got what we wanted to accomplish in the spring: They’re going to compete for seven innings.”
Woodland’s 9-6 win over Wolcott, the defending NVL champion, on Monday put the rest of the league on notice. The Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead early but fell behind 6-3 in the second thanks to a grand slam by Chuck Ciampi.
Everett Miner relieved Anthony D’Agnone and threw 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief to keep Woodland in a position to come back. Tanner Kingsley’s solo homer closed the gap before a four-run seventh put the Hawks ahead for good.
“We got a bunt down, we hit a ground ball to the right side and we got a sac fly,” Mike Kingsley said. “We got four runs in the seventh and never stopped fighting. Everybody did the little things.”
Sam Merriman was among Woodland’s offensive leaders with a two-run single and three runs. Senior Mike Gondola stood out to Kingsley in the seventh when the catcher added an insurance run with an RBI single to make it 8-6.
“Mike Gondola didn’t get to hit as a junior, but he’s gotten some big hits this year,” Kingsley said. “We were up 7-6 in the seventh, and he came up with a big hit to give us an insurance run. That changed the way we were able to pitch in the last inning.”
Tanner Kingsley blanked the Eagles over the last two innings to earn the win, his second in three games. He also recorded a save in Woodland’s season-opening 5-2 win over Sacred Heart on April 9 and earned the win in the Hawks’ 7-1 win over Crosby last Friday.
D’Agnone made a quality start against the Hearts and earned the victory despite a sluggish offensive start by his team. Woodland loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and failed to score, but the Hawks did the same in the sixth and plated five.
Tanner Kingsley, Merriman, Jared Grillo and Matt Butterworth each had a single and an RBI, and Matt Spofford knocked a sac fly in the sixth. It took a while for Woodland to make Sacred Heart starter Jamie Butler pay for his lack of control.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Butler kid — almost too much respect,” Mike Kingsley said. “You have to attack, and we didn’t do that in the first few innings against him. Once they gained some confidence, their approach has been phenomenal. They’re willing to put down a bunt, hit a sac fly and move a guy to third. They’re playing fundamental baseball.”
Woodland fell behind 1-0 in the first to Crosby last Friday before warming up the offense. Tanner Kingsley tripled, drove in a run and scored twice, while Grillo knocked three hits and Merriman cracked a two-run double.
In addition to the heating-up offense, Woodland has only made two errors in three games. The strong defense and timely hitting has translated to the strong start — and a whole lot of confidence.
“The feeling after the game was a feeling of confidence,” Mike Kingsley said. “We realize we’ve done nothing yet. But it’s three games in the right direction. When they get to the park, they feel like they’re going to win. That’s important. They don’t fear anybody.”
The Hawks suffered their first loss of the season Thursday against rival Naugatuck. The Greyhounds went into Beacon Falls and came away with a 6-1 win.
Woodland (3-1) shot itself in the foot several times early in the game with uncharacteristic miscues. The Hawks, who had committed just two errors in their first three games, made three in the first three innings and failed to close in on two shallow outfield pop-ups.
Woodland will host Ansonia Saturday in a game that was postponed from Wednesday. A showdown against NVL favorite Holy Cross is set for Monday afternoon in Waterbury.