BY KYLE BRENNAN
WATERBURY — A night after pulling the biggest Naugatuck Valley League upset of the spring, the Woodland baseball team didn’t have enough magic left in the tank to win a league title for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Hawks suffered a 7-2 loss to Holy Cross on May 26 at Municipal Stadium in their first appearance in the NVL tournament final since winning the champioinship over Seymour in 2004. Woodland reached the final after upsetting previously unbeaten St. Paul, 6-4, in the semifinals.
Hawks coach Steve Bainer didn’t know if his team had any difficulty returning 24 hours after the stunning victory or whether they just didn’t play their best game against a solid Holy Cross team.
“If you’re not up for championship game, you’ve gotta check your ticker,” Bainer said. “[Holy Cross] played really well. I thought [Logan] Bessette threw the ball really well. They had timely hits. We had four hits, we made three errors, and we walked six guys. You’re not going to win too many tournament championship baseball games with that recipe. They found a way to buckle down with runners on base. [Against St. Paul], we had the big hit with two outs, and tonight we fell victim to it.”
Holy Cross put up four runs in the second inning, including three after a ground ball to third base that would have been the final out of the inning if not for a failed attempt to tag a baserunner. Instead, the grounder allowed the Crusaders to score three of their four runs in the frame.
The Hawks managed a run in the third when Zach Drewry reached on an error to plate Matt Deegan and another in the fourth when Tyler Giambra singled home Anthony Marsala.
In the semifinal against St. Paul, Woodland’s four-run second inning gave the Hawks a 4-1 lead they didn’t relinquish. Tyler Lato crushed a two-run homer to left, followed by a run-scoring error and an RBI single by Ryan Montini.
Michael Belcher hit an RBI double in the fourth, and an insurance run in the fifth was enough for Belcher to earn a three-inning save in relief of Giambra. Giambra allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts, while Belcher gave up two runs on three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
Woodland’s win over St. Paul came just two weeks after the Falcons’ Brendan Foley threw a perfect game against the Hawks.
“You’re not going to beat a team like this with a punch in the first inning,” Bainer said. “You’re going to have to beat them with your jab and keep jabbing and jabbing and jabbing, and that’s kind of what we looked to do.”
Woodland began the NVL tournament with a 4-0 win over Naugatuck in which Belcher threw a complete-game shutout. The Hawks entered the Class M state tournament as the No. 7 seed with a 17-6 record and will seek to build upon the success they enjoyed last year, when they reached the semifinals for the third time in program history.
“At this time of the year, you have to have a short memory,” Bainer said. “Last night proved how quickly things can turn. We just have to win one game at a time and focus on what’s in front of us.”
Kevin Roberts contributed to this story.
BY KYLE BRENNAN