BY KEN MORSE
The rivalry on the baseball field between Naugatuck and Woodland did more for the competitive edge than it did for any bragging rights. In 2001, when Woodland opened its doors and began an athletic program, the Greyhounds were the team to beat on the baseball diamond.
“We played JV the first year,” said former Woodland coach Joe Steele. “We had our first varsity season in 2003 and we came close but fell short to Naugatuck. I told the team if we are going to be competitive in the NVL that is the team we need to beat.”
In 2004 Woodland got that chance and knocked off Naugatuck and Seymour to win the NVL baseball tournament.
“We were 13-7 and Naugatuck was the NVL champion that year,” recalled Steele. “That was before the NVL tournament became the venue that decided the league title in 2008. We did win our first NVL title with a league-best record of 20-6 in 2007.
“I think when we first started the natural rivalry, it was more like the Prospect kids went to Wolcott or Holy Cross and the Beacon Falls kids went to Seymour. Some may have gone to Naugatuck but the rivalry began to heat up among all the sports. It just became a game on the schedule that everyone looked forward to. It made both teams better in the long run.”
Naugatuck had a group of players around that time that left their mark. Jeff Farrell (Class of 2002, Boston Red Sox) and Steve Hiscock (Class of 2006, Tampa Bay Rays) went on to minor league baseball and Pat Dean (Class of 2007, Minnesota Twins) rose through the ranks to the major leagues.
“We had a great group of baseball players come though Naugatuck at that time,” said former Greyhounds coach Tom Deller. “Joe Steele took Litchfield to a state championship, so it was only a matter of time before Woodland became competitive.
“They had some very good baseball players over there as well and I think we kind of upped our game every time we played them. When Mike Kingsley took over as head coach in 2011, we had a friendly relationship but we still wanted to win on the baseball field. I think it made both teams that much more competitive.”
Woodland touted several All-State players: Shane Kingsley (2006), Ken Graveline (2007) and Mark McKay (2008). In later years during the second decade of this rivalry, All-State players Jack DeBiase (2011), Tanner Kingsley (2014), Colby Linnell (2019) and Zach Bedryczuk (2019) left their mark on the baseball diamond.
The 2014 Naugy team reached the state quarterfinals with a decade best mark of 17-7. All-State player Nolan Kinne put up the third highest average in the program’s history in 2012, batting at a.529 clip. Joevanni Torres earned all-state in 2017, and this was also the era of the Plasky boys: Kyle (2014), Corey (2017), Rick (2017) and Mike (2018).
This past spring under third-year coach Steve Bainer, Woodland ramped up the rivalry by winning its first NVL championship since 2007. Naugatuck, under second-year coach Joe Iannotti, compiled a 31-9 mark over the past two seasons.
The rivalry is still alive and well. In fact it is only getting better with age, and with two new coaches in the dugout, we have only started to see this rivalry pick up the pace.
BY KEN MORSE