Playing tall

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Gondola’s stature unquestioned behind the plate

Woodland catcher Mike Gondola has played larger than his stature behind the plate for the Hawks. The senior, who set his sights on playing catcher four years ago, has been an integral part of the Hawks’ success this season. –FILE PHOTO
Woodland catcher Mike Gondola has played larger than his stature behind the plate for the Hawks. The senior, who set his sights on playing catcher four years ago, has been an integral part of the Hawks’ success this season. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Woodland catcher Mike Gondola rose from the bench to finish taping his wrists after a dugout interview May 19. Before he strayed too far, though, there was one more question for the diminutive senior.

“How tall are you these days?” came the question.

“Six feet,” Gondola deadpanned.

Woodland’s baseball roster doesn’t list heights and weights, but last fall’s football roster had Gondola at a generous 5-foot-7. The dugout consensus proclaimed 5-foot-5 as the top of the mark, but head coach Mike Kingsley quickly reconciled the height differential.

“He plays like he’s 6 foot,” Kingsley said.

Gondola, a senior captain, has been an integral part of Woodland’s best season in Kingsley’s four years as head coach. The Hawks (10-9) have put themselves into contention for a berth in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament and a Class M state tournament run after a few lean years.

In Gondola’s first three years, Woodland squeaked into the qualifying round of states twice and missed out on the postseason once. The Hawks haven’t made the NVL tourney at all in his career, but the group that has been through tough times has helped pave the way this season.

“It’s senior leadership, without a doubt,” Gondola said. “The majority of us have been here for four years, and we’ve seen what it feels like to miss states or get knocked out. We knew we wanted to come back and make a run.”

Gondola is small by most standards and tiny compared to other catchers, but he set his eyes on the varsity catching spot from the start of his high school career. That determination caught the eye of Kingsley, who coached Gondola throughout his youth career.

“He’s been a program kid from day one,” Kingsley said. “He knew he had to put in the work to get where he wanted to be as the starting varsity catcher, and by junior year he was ready.”

“That was always the goal of mine to get to this point,” Gondola said. “I was lucky enough as a freshman to see what Jack DeBiase was doing, so I knew what it took to get here.”

By the time he cracked the defensive lineup as a junior, he still didn’t have all the tools to see many opportunities at the plate. It is, after all, a bit tougher to generate power with a 5-foot-something, 148-pound frame.

“Offensively is where the struggles came, with the power and being undersized,” Gondola said. “You have to learn not to do too much up there and just take what’s given to you.”

Even while Gondola worked on his hitting — which has landed him in the order this season — Kingsley knew how important it was to have a catcher with the knowledge to handle a pitching staff and an entire defense.

“What he lacks in power and strength, he makes up in smarts,” Kingsley said. “He’s such a heady ballplayer. He knows every situation, he knows what every player should be doing and he’s everything you want your catcher to be.”

At the same time, Gondola has shut down opponents’ running games. He has gunned down seven runners this season, showing other teams that they shouldn’t take him lightly.

“If they do, that’s fine,” Gondola said. “I’ll throw them out.”

Gondola has grown to become one of Woodland’s hottest hitters of late. He cracked the first two doubles of his career, as well as two RBI and two runs, in a 9-0 win over Watertown May 16. He added two more hits and an RBI in a 7-5 loss to Derby May 19.

As the regular-season comes to an end Thursday at Seymour, the Hawks still have work ahead of them to improve their spot in the Class M tournament and qualify for the NVL tourney.

“We have all the potential in the world,” Gondola said. “It’s all based on how hard we work. If we work as hard as we have all season, we’ve got a lot of potential.”