BEACON FALLS — Though the Woodland baseball team has question marks at most positions around the diamond, there’s one area in which the Hawks might be as strong as anyone—up the middle.
Senior shortstop Ryan Mariotti and senior second baseman Mike Hardy are two of the most experienced middle infielders in the Naugatuck Valley League and will likely be key components of an otherwise inexperienced varsity unit.
Woodland lost six seniors from last year’s team that went 15-9 and advanced to the second rounds of the NVL and Class M state tournaments. Those losses include longtime stalwarts in the order and the field, such as Kyle Georgia, Ryan Genua, and Mike Diurno.
Now, Mariotti, Hardy, and senior catcher Jack DeBiase are the only returning full-time starters, leaving those three and first-year coach Mike Kingsley with work to do.
Mariotti and Hardy make the Hawks strong defensively thanks in part to their camaraderie on either side of second base.
“Basically we’ve played the last two years from spring to fall together,” said Hardy, who hit .417 with 30 hits, 24 runs, and 19 RBI last year. “It’s just easy to communicate. We know where each other’s going to be. It’s like playing with somebody you played with your whole life.”
“Last year, Hardy and I really bonded as middle infielders,” added Mariotti, who finished with a .302 average and led the team with 12 steals. “I’m really comfortable with him at second base. We feel like we have one of the top middle infields. We just have really good chemistry together.”
Bolstering the Hawks’ defense up the middle is DeBiase, who enters his second year behind the plate and hits third as a key component of the lineup. DeBiase led the team with a .447 average, 34 hits, 12 doubles, and 31 runs. He also led the team with a .645 slugging percentage and a .533 on-base average.
For as good as the senior trio’s stats were, there are still six spots on the field that have yet to be filled by proven players.
Sophomore Anthony Scirpo may add to the Woodland defense in center field after seeing significant time in the preseason.
Senior Ryan McKay looks to be the team’s first baseman, but the corner outfield spots and third base are still very much undecided.
A four-man competition for the third base spot is still ongoing, as are battles for starting roles in left and right field.
Even though the lineup isn’t yet set in stone, Hardy likes how the team is hitting in the preseason after strong performances in its first two scrimmages.
“I think that our offense is going to be really good with the couple of additions to the team,” Hardy said. “We should be pretty good. There’s nothing really negative right now.”
“I feel like we have a lot of good baseball players on this team,” Mariotti said. “We have a lot of good young guys and we seniors have to teach the guys what to do. Nobody has any faith in us, but I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
Pitching is also an uncertainty as the team returns just 33 innings of experience with seniors Mike Masulli and Anthony Pacileo and junior Brian Langdon seeing limited action on the mound last year.
Those three and several others will likely see some time toeing the rubber as the team looks to use a deep pitching staff.
With inexperience littering the field, Mariotti thinks senior leadership to help the young players fill in will be crucial.
“I think that our role as seniors this year is going to be very important,” Mariotti said. “We have to show them that you shouldn’t be scared of varsity or any team because we have a great group of guys. We’re going to have great team chemistry. We just need a lot of the younger kids who haven’t had much varsity time to step up.”
Hardy likes how the season sets up for the Hawks.
“I feel like we’re going to be underdogs all year long, but I think we’re going to win,” he said.
Woodland opens the season April 6 at home against Ansonia before hitting the road for four games in six days.