Hawks surpass expectations early; COVID pauses Naugatuck’s season

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Cory Mastropietro (14) steals second base as the throw skips past Wolcott’s Jake Santulli (1) during a game April 13 at Woodland Regional High School. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Preseason scrimmages were going to be extra important this year to new Woodland baseball coach Steve Bainer, who had little idea what his inexperienced Hawks were capable of this season.

Those preparations went out the window when the program went on COVID-19 quarantine just before scrimmage week was set to begin. The pause also delayed Woodland’s April 10 season opener against Wolcott to April 13.

“It was definitely tough, especially as a first-year coach in this program,” Bainer said of losing the end of the preseason. “You see the guys swing in the cages and everything, but you didn’t know what to expect. We really went into that opening game against Wolcott with no expectations.”

No expectations are easy to beat, but the Hawks’ first two outings would have beaten any expectations.

Woodland routed Wolcott, 13-3, and edged St. Paul, 5-3, to begin the season with a pair of quality victories April 13 and 14.

Freshman Mike Belcher earned the opening-day start and combined with Tyler Giambra to throw a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts in the five-inning, mercy-rule win. Zach Drewry led the offense with three hits, including a triple and four RBI, while Matt Koliani added a single, a double and two RBI.

The following day, Koliani pitched Woodland to a 5-1 lead and Cam Heeman, returning from Tommy John surgery, recorded a save with St. Paul’s tying run at the plate in a 5-3 victory. Matthew Deegan’s two-run homer in the second inning was the big hit for Woodland, while Ryan Montini robbed the Falcons’ Ryan Daniels of a three-run homer in the fifth by extending over the right-centerfield wall.

“That was play-of-the-year candidate,” Bainer said of the grab by Montini, who was also 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

Bainer said the Hawks have showed promise in all phases of the game so far.

“Our pitching has been really good,” Bainer said. “Our guys have been good about getting swings and misses. We did walk too many guys over the first couple of games, so we’ll have to hone in on throwing more strikes. Offensively, I’m really impressed with how our guys have grinded out at-bats. We really worked pitchers into favorable counts, and with nine guys in the lineup without varsity experience, you don’t expect that. We’ve had timely hits, and we’ve played well defensively, too.”

Woodland’s Mike Belcher (10) delivers a pitch during a game against Wolcott on April 13 at Woodland Regional High School. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Woodland is scheduled to get back in action April 19 at Derby before hosting Oxford on April 23 in the Hawks’ first two Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division contests.

Naugy on quarantine: The Greyhounds started their season on an up-and-down note — a 5-3 win over Seymour on April 10, followed immediately by a COVID-19 quarantine that forced their next seven games to be postponed.

Brady Evon starred in the win over the Wildcats, allowing three hits with 10 strikeouts at French Park. Lucas McKenney tallied three hits of his own with an RBI, while Mike Rusin had two hits and an RBI. Matt Kilmer and Justin Stone chipped in an RBI single apiece.

Naugy’s schedule on the CIAC website listed postponements through April 23. The Greyhounds are set to host Torrington on April 26, and it will be nearly impossible to reschedule all of the postponed games due to short time frame before the postseason.