BEACON FALLS — No one would have faulted the Woodland softball team this year if it experienced a hiccup or two along the way. After all, the defending Naugatuck Valley League champions returned this year minus five starters, including All-State pitcher Katie Alfiere.
Returning just three senior captains—Rebecca Norton, and Kara Hames—a few growing pains were anticipated. Apparently some of the young Hawks didn’t get the memo.
Woodland started out of the blocks with an 8-0 mark, stunning a few teams along the way and winning four of those games by one run.
“I honestly didn’t envision that we would be 16-3 at this point in the season,” Woodland head coach Loren Luddy said. “I think all those one-run games early on gave them a lot of confidence. The team really came together rather quickly.”
Only Seymour, Holy Cross and Ansonia have been able to put blemishes on the Hawks’ 16-3 ledger.
Woodland suddenly had to put another pitcher in the circle when freshman Samantha Lee went down with an injury. However, the wheels hadn’t come off the wagon just yet but they certainly were a little wobbly at that point.
Many teams in that predicament would have naturally folded under the stress and the season could have come unraveled in a hasty fashion. But the Hawks haven’t gone nine seasons in a row making the state tournament by accident.
Woodland has an ingredient not possessed by many teams—resolve. The Hawks just find the will to win. That was displayed in true fashion after suffering their worst loss of the season, a 13-1 pasting by Ansonia.
The Hawks didn’t hang their heads. In fact, they rose to the occasion and have reeled off six straight wins. That speaks volumes about the character of this team. What has been amazing is the way they have done it. Four of the last six wins have been decided by two runs or less.
“We went through a tough period of adjustment once Samantha got hurt,” Luddy said. “Angie [Wirsing] was getting her first varsity experience pitching and she worked extremely hard to get better. The team started to rally around her and to their credit they turned it around.”
Woodland is finding ways to win. That is the mark of a team intent on defending its title. Junior Angie Wirsing has taken over the pitching duties and after a rough start the team has rallied around her and the Hawks are clicking on all cylinders.
Last week, sophomore Nicole Fowler knocked in the game-winning run in a 2-1 victory over Watertown. On Monday, another pair of young players stepped up and delivered in the clutch as Woodland escaped with a 9-7 win over Derby.
Sophomore Brooke Leshin belted a two-out, game-tying single to score Emily Wirsing as Woodland battled back from a 6-5 deficit to score four runs in the seventh and earn the win.
Junior Kristen Dempsey and freshman Brianna Pacileo added last-inning RBI singles.
“We came out flat against Derby,” said Luddy. “Their pitcher was hitting the strike zone but we finally managed to put it all together in that last inning. And to have a sophomore in Brooke come up in that situation with two outs and the game on the line, that was huge.”
The Hawks were scheduled to face Seymour on Thursday in the team’s final regular-season game. The NVL tournament was set to start Saturday, but it may be moved due to this week’s weather. Regardless, Luddy said her team will be set to defend its title.
“Now the tournaments will start and it’s a whole new game,” Luddy said. “Everyone will come ready to go and they know each pitcher and all the batters. They should be some real good games.”