WATERBURY — During the final timeout of Woodland’s loss to Crosby in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament quarterfinals last Saturday, Hawks head coach Tom Hunt made a point that will likely serve his team well in the future.
“I had the kids make sure they looked down, check the front of their jerseys and that it said ‘Hawks’ and show some pride with that,” Hunt said. “Our biggest thing at the end of the game as a coaching staff was to make sure we played a full 32 minutes.”
Crosby defeated Woodland, 85-48, in the Hawks’ second-ever appearance in the NVL tournament Saturday at the Reggie O’Brien Gymnasium at Wilby High.
The Bulldogs, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, scored the first 11 points and led, 22-9, after Davon Robinson banked in a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the first quarter. The seventh-seeded Hawks shot 4-of-14 from the floor in the opening period while Crosby shot 8-of-11.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half and I think a little bit of that was nerves,” Hunt said.
Ryan Angeloszek led Woodland with 11 points while Tanner Kingsley and Rahmi Rountree added nine points each.
The Hawks (12-9) worked for every shot and fought on every defensive possession. The Bulldogs burned the fatigued Hawks for a quick-hitting 7-0 run at the end of the half that was capped by a layup from Anthony King.
“The way they played defense made us think a lot more and made us play a lot harder to get the shots we wanted,” said Yahmad Rountree, who scored eight points for the Hawks.
The Bulldogs neutralized Yahmad, Woodland’s versatile big man, by putting a guard, Todd Smith, on him. And it paid off.
Nick Augelli, Crosby’s longtime head coach, praised the Hawks and their coach.
“Tom has done a great job with that program,” Augelli said of Hunt.
In previous years, Augelli might not have to worry about Woodland. That was not the case prior to Saturday’s game.
“I was nervous before the game today,” Augelli said. “It’s not just Woodland anymore. It’s a basketball team you have to be on top of your game for.”
Saturday wasn’t so much about the final result for Woodland. It was also about the experience. Kingsley, a freshman, played valuable minutes for the Hawks against the Bulldogs in his first postseason game.
“It’s a good learning experience to get used to playing in big games,” Kingsley said.
Yahmad, a senior, said the game was a culmination of sorts. The Hawks have progressed throughout his high school career.
“It makes us feel like all the hard work is paying off,” said Yahmad, who became the first player in team history to be named to the All-NVL team. Yahmad’s brother, Rahmi, earned a spot on the All-Brass squad.
Hunt said the bigger prize is on the horizon—the states. Woodland still has a chance to splash against nonconference competition.
“The state tournament is the absolute goal and that’s the next one in front of us,” Hunt said.
Woodland earned a No. 22 seed in the Class M state tournament and will travel to Colchester on Monday night to face No. 11 Bacon Academy (14-6). The Hawks are looking for their first state tourney win since their 2005 Division III second round victory over Shepaug Valley.