Hawks pull to within one win of tourney berth

Woodland’s Mickey Meier (4) drives to the basket as Naugatuck’s Andrew Robertson defends Feb. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The turning point in the Woodland boys basketball team’s season may have come just in the nick of time.

During a Feb. 1 game against rival Naugatuck — one the Hawks eventually lost, 63-43, to fall to 4-11 on the year — Woodland coach Tom Hunt felt as low as any feeling he’s experienced during his dozen years in the Woods.

Woodland faced a 36-18 deficit at halftime after a lethargic effort during a point in the season when the Hawks urgently needed victories to reach the state tournament.

“Sometimes you hit a point in the season that’s a changing point as a team,” Hunt said. “I think that happened during the first half of the Naugatuck game. In the locker room, we talked about the lack of effort the guys showed during the first half, and I told the guys in the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen any one of our teams play with that lack of effort. I told them I was embarrassed and they should be embarrassed for the guys who’d worn the uniform before them.”

To their credit, the Hawks responded to their coach’s message. They played the Greyhounds much more tightly in the second half, and that momentum helped Woodland reel off three straight victories the following week.

“I thought we came out and played better in the second half and with a lot more enthusiasm, and that really carried on into the next two games,” Hunt said. “It helped us grow as a team. These guys take pride in what they do, and it’s starting to show.”

Consecutive victories against divisional opponents put Woodland in position to challenge for a state tournament spot during the final week of the regular season.

The Hawks knocked off Oxford, 72-64, on Feb. 4, Derby, 64-48, on Feb. 5 and Seymour, 68-58, on Feb. 8 to improve to 7-11. That leaves games against Wilby (Monday) and Wolcott (Thursday) on the slate. One victory in the final two games will send Woodland to the Division IV state tourney.

The three straight victories snapped a six-game losing skid for the Hawks.

In the Feb. 4 win at Oxford, Woodland rallied from a 34-28 halftime deficit. Zach Bedryczuk netted a game-high 28 points with five 3-pointers, and Mickey Meier (14 points) and Jason Palmieri (11) also reached double-figures.

That trio replicated the feat the following night against Derby. Bedryczuk led the way with 20 points, while Palmieri put up 16 and Meier added 12.

Against Seymour, Bedryczuk led the Hawks with 26, while Palmieri and Meier added 13 each.

Woodland’s Justin Marks (23) puts up a shot in front of Naugatuck’s Avery Hinnant (4) Feb. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Palmieri’s efforts down the stretch in his freshman season as point guard have gained Hunt’s notice.

“Palmieri is starting to come of age,” Hunt said. “He’s starting to understand what the team needs out of him, and his role is becoming more defined. He’s getting better and better.”

Hunt also praised Tyler Bulinski, the team’s sixth man who totaled 17 points over the four-game stretch.

“(Bulinski) has stepped up when he’s been called upon and he’s knocked down important shots when we’ve needed them,” Hunt said. “He relishes the pressure and is able to come through.”

Wilby entered the final week of the regular season with just one victory. Wolcott, which entered the final week with a 12-6 mark, would make for a tough home test if the Hawks need a victory to reach the state tournament.

Still, Hunt remained confident and considered his squad a potential sleeper if it reaches the postseason.

“We’re coming together and playing better as a unit,” Hunt said. “You always look to be better at the end of the season than you were at the beginning, and this is a team that’s taking that to heart. The sky’s the limit if we get into the playoffs.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the Feb. 14 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played after press time.