Woodland baseball’s overall journey can’t be overshadowed by loss in final

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BY KYLE BRENNAN
CITIZEN’S NEWS
MIDDLETOWN —Woodland baseball coach Steve Bainer best encapsulated the Hawks’ 20-1 loss to Joel Barlow in the Class M championship June 11 with a few simple words.
“Saturday was a bad day to have a bad day,” Bainer said.
Seventh-seeded Woodland (21-7) knew it would have its hands full with No. 4 Joel Barlow, which boasted the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year in senior pitcher Matt Scott, a Stanford commit who will likely be selected in July’s Major League Baseball draft.
But the mistakes the Hawks made in the first three innings — two errors in a two-run first inning, two more in a two-run second and another in a three-run third, plus four walks and a hit batter — squandered any chance they had well before Barlow’s bats exploded in a 13-run fourth inning.
It was a game Woodland knew it had to win in a low-scoring, cleanly played affair, and it just wasn’t the formula that played out.
“We didn’t do anything particularly well that day,” Bainer said. “You’re facing a Major League prospect, and tip your cap to him, he was effective. We didn’t play well.”
Woodland managed three hits off Scott, but they put together good at-bats throughout much of his five innings. Matt Deegan’s single in the second gave Woodland two on with one out, but the Hawks failed to score. Ryan Montini crushed a two-out double to left-center in the third, but he was stranded.
Montini drove in Woodland’s only run on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth, plating Ethan Stepputtis after he led off the inning with an infield single.
Michael Belcher, Woodland’s sophomore ace, struggled against Barlow’s potent lineup and exited after 2 1/3 innings. He surrendered four earned runs on five hits and four walks with four strikeouts.
Still, Bainer soon after the game switched to reflection mode on the winningest two-year stretch in program history. It was Woodland’s first appearance in a state final after previously reaching the semis three times.
“I told our guys that it was important to not look just at the last chapter of the book but look at the entire book,” Bainer said. “This senior class was 42-10 over the past two years. There was nothing to hang their heads about.”
Woodland reached the Naugatuck Valley League final for the first time since 2004 and tied last year’s program record with 21 wins. When the Hawks upset St. Paul in the NVL semifinals, it was the second time in program history in which they beat the state’s No. 1-ranked team (the other was Seymour in 2009).
Bainer gave kudos to his senior class, especially starters Deegan, Montini, Tyler Lato, Tyler Giambra, Zach Drewry, and Croy Mastropietro.
“They were always primed for the big battle,” Bainer said. “Our four games against Naugatuck the last two years, the four times we saw St. Paul the last two years, they were always primed for the big battles in the tournament. You don’t get to have the success of the last two years without those guys. The moment was never too big for them. They were the ultimate competitors.”