BY KYLE BRENNAN
Woodland baseball coach Steve Bainer wasn’t losing sleep over the Hawks’ second loss of the year. A 3-2 defeat against two-time reigning Naugatuck Valley League champion Holy Cross on April 28 didn’t spur any concern for Woodland.
“Holy Cross is a good team. There’s a reason why they’ve found a way to win the NVL despite Woodland, St. Paul, Oxford, Seymour, and Naugatuck all being good teams,” Bainer said. “I thought we played well, but they just played better.”
On a Friday night at Municipal Stadium, Woodland dug itself a 3-0 hole entering the fifth inning. In the seventh, the Hawks staged a rally. Anthony Marsala led off by being hit with a pitch, and Max Martin’s two-out double gave his team runners on second and third.
Darren Gasparri followed up with a two-run single to make it a 3-2 game. He advanced to second on the throw and to third on a passed ball, but Alec Ash retired the final batter to end the game.
Still, the rematch of last year’s NVL championship game felt exactly like what it could have been a preview of – a meeting in this year’s league or state tournament.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Bainer said. “We’ve been fortunate to play in the regular season [against] St. Joe’s, Wolcott, Holy Cross, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour and St. Paul. Some of those games, whether you win or you lose, are the kids showing up and playing hard? Are they ready for the moment? Do they realize in those games the approach you need? Sometimes the approach is more important than the outcome.”
Recent efforts after Woodland’s previous loss, a 14-6 defeat at Seymour on April 18, encouraged Bainer that his squad is up to the challenge.
“Sometimes you win a game and you walk away thinking that you didn’t play well. We walked away from Holy Cross feeling like we were right there,” Bainer said. “Games like those reveal your character. You have to know your team’s character when it comes to the postseason. You can’t coach that.”
Gasparri’s effort on the mound against the Crusaders — 5 1/3 innings, three runs, seven hits, four strikeouts and three walks — was also a positive sign for Bainer. Gasparri, a senior, is one of the pitchers whom the Hawks will need to step up come the postseason when junior ace Michael Belcher is unavailable.
“We know what we’re getting when Michael takes the mound,” Bainer said. “Darren Gasparri is throwing the ball exceptionally well this year. Ethan Stepputtis has been effective in a handful of starts. Dakota Palange has been effective in a few starts. Guys have stepped into the role. We’re rounding into form.”
Woodland bounced back from the loss against Holy Cross with a pair of wins over Oxford (7-2 on May 1) and Waterbury Career (15-0 on May 4). Belcher scattered four hits over six innings against the Wolverines and supported himself with a home run. Gasparri added four hits and Cayden O’Neil tacked on a pair for the Hawks (13-2).
Woodland’s last non-league test will come May 11 against Masuk, and the Hawks will wrap up the regular season May 15 against Crosby. The NVL quarterfinals are set for May 20.