BEACON FALLS — With a disappointing 2 ½ innings in the books Monday against Kennedy, the Woodland baseball team trotted into the dugout an unhappy bunch of Hawks.
For the first time this season, they had a chance to capture some real momentum. Entering as winners of two of their last three, they faced a crucial inning at the plate, trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the third, to keep their rhythm alive.
Woodland responded by coming through with a four-run third, reliever Anthony D’Agnone shut down a Kennedy rally the next inning and the Hawks pulled away with a 10-5 victory that thrust themselves back into the Naugatuck Valley League tournament discussion.
“This team has been battling back and they just weren’t going to stand for losing on their home field today,” Woodland coach Mike Kingsley said. “They changed their approach right in the middle of the game. They went from worrying about personal at-bats to thinking about what we needed as a team.”
All of the Hawks’ third-inning offense came with one out. Sam Merriman cracked Woodland’s first hit of the day with a double to the left-center-field gap before Anthony Scirpo singled through the left side to give the Hawks runners on first and third.
Tanner Kingsley followed by roping a fastball down the left-field line, where it got past the dive of Kennedy’s left fielder and rolled to the wall for a two-run triple that tied the game. Mike Kenney, the breakout hitter for Woodland so far this season, drove in Kingsley for the go-ahead run when he lined a single to left.
“Michael Kenney batted and played every inning of every game as a freshman and it’s paying off now,” Mike Kingsley said. “He’s swinging the bat with the most confidence on the team. His improvement is unbelievable.”
“I’m finding my role on the team and I’ve found my swing this year,” said Kenney, now the team’s No. 3 hitter. “I’m just feeling more comfortable with my hands. I’ve got loose hands and I’m getting to the ball with a nicer swing.”
Kenney later scored on a groundout by Anthony Ross to make it a 4-2 game.
The Eagles threatened to rally back in the top of the fourth when they put their Nos. 8 and 9 hitters on base to start the inning against Kingsley. D’Agnone, who has been terrific in relief for Woodland so far, entered the game and induced a sacrifice bunt, a strikeout and later got a groundout to shortstop Dave Uhl to end the inning with no damage.
“He’s been the unsung hero of the pitching staff,” Mike Kingsley said.
D’Agnone is a junior in his first season on the varsity squad. Perhaps his best performance before Monday was a six-inning relief stint against Holy Cross in which he allowed only two hits.
“I’m just trying to throw strikes and throw pitches that coach thinks will get guys out,” D’Agnone said. “That seems to be the slider. I just throw it like coach tells me to. I throw it at their hips and it falls off.”
Woodland’s fifth inning may have been its best of the season. A frame that started with an attempt to produce a couple of runs exploded into a six-run stanza that sealed the game.
Kenney led off with a triple and scored when Dave Uhl singled. Uhl stole second, moved up to third on a groundout by Ross and came home on Steve Baeder’s squeeze bunt. Woodland later strung together five straight hits by Nick Brown, D’Agnone, Merriman, Scirpo and Kingsley to bring home the rest of the runs.
“That’s the best offensive team baseball we’ve had all season,” Mike Kingsley said. “We moved runners, we took extra bases, we hit behind runners and we had very team-oriented at-bats.”
The Hawks, who were in the No. 8 spot for the NVL tournament after Monday’s game, beat Wilby on Wednesday, 20-6. Brown belted three hits, had four RBI for the Hawks, who improved to 6-7 overall and 6-6 in the NVL with the win. Tanner Kingsley had four hits, three runs scored and an RBI and Uhl added three hits, four RBI and three runs scored. Baeder scattered nine hits over five innings for the win.
Woodland will start a key string of divisional games Friday at St. Paul.
“Everybody knows that winning is the best deodorant,” Kingsley said. “You start winning, you start playing with more confidence, start doing more team things and the wins start showing up.”