BEACON FALLS — The Woodland girls basketball team struggled to find a way to strengthen the defense and put up a competitive effort on offense during a 1-5 start to the season.
The Hawks averaged 33 points and allowed 46 points per game, including three games where they surrendered over 50 points, during that six-game stretch. Something had to give, and it started with a renewed effort on defense.
The Hawks broke a four-game skid with a convincing 44-20 win over Wilby on Dec. 30. Senior captain Becky Hale led the way with 17 points as Woodland got out to a 21-12 lead at the half.
Carla Piccolo (eight points) and Jen Triana (seven points) helped the Hawks to get established in the paint, as Woodland secured the game with a 14-4 edge in the third period.
Haley Andrews added five points, Cameron Caswell had three points and Camryn Johnson had two points. Jenna Pannone and Megan Sirowich pitched in a point each to give the Hawks their highest scoring output of the season.
“It certainly came at the right time,” said Woodland head coach Jess Moffo about the win over Wilby. “We were struggling and lost a few games late in the fourth period. We may not be in the position that we want to be in, but we are starting to do the little things that make a big difference late in the game.”
Woodland (3-5) made it two straight wins with a 44-39 victory Jan. 6 over Derby, matching their season-high for points in the process. Piccolo and Pannone led the way inside with 12 points each as the Hawks broke out to a 12-5 first period lead and clung to a 21-16 advantage at the half.
Hale (seven points) and Caswell (six points) helped Woodland to maintain a four-point lead heading into the final period. Triana, Erika Michie and Eliza Smith added two points each as Woodland hung on for the five-point win.
Moffo pointed to defense and the leadership of Hale has the keys to the two straight wins.
“The key has been our defense that is putting us in position to win these games,” Moffo said. “Hale has been a tremendous leader for us. She bleeds black and gold and has already hit four or five buzzer-beater shots.”
Woodland, which has a young roster, is gaining experience as the season progresses.
“Becky (Hale), Carla (Piccolo) and Cameron (Caswell) are the most experienced players out there and the rest of the girls are gaining experience, but there are growing pains that we are going through,” Moffo said.
The Hawks suffered a big loss with the injury of Maddie Hupprich, Moffo said.
“She gave us quality minutes,” Moffo said.
Eliza Smith has helped fill the gap, including playing 10 minutes against Derby.
While the defense has kept the Hawks in games, the offense has been sparked by an inside presence. Triana and Pannone are helping out Piccolo down in the blocks along with junior Jill Chicano.
“Triana helps us out with her size underneath and she is also a good passer,” Moffo said. “Pannone is just a fierce competitor. (Erika) Michie is just a freshman but will give us added depth in the second half of the season. Chicano keeps possessions alive with her rebounding ability, and it’s the inside game that has sparked our offense.”
Weather postponed games last Friday and Monday. The Hawks look to make it three wins in a row Wednesday against St. Paul. Woodland will be at Ansonia on Friday.
Next week is when the true test begins. The Hawks will host Holy Cross on Jan. 20, Sacred Heart Jan. 21 and Watertown Jan. 23.
“If we continue to stay out of foul trouble late in the games and limit our turnovers we will continue to be competitive,” Moffo said. “We do have three tough games next week, so we will need to play four solid periods and finish games strong.”