BEACON FALLS — Sunk by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer two days after Christmas, the Woodland boys basketball team shrugged off a heartbreaking loss against Oxford like it never happened.
Two days later, the Hawks rebounded from that 53-50 defeat to the Wolverines by routing Thomaston, 67-54, in a game that wasn’t nearly that close in the Cowboy Classic consolation game in Litchfield.
“These guys felt like, the play’s over, the game’s over, let’s move on,” said Woodland coach Tom Hunt, who watched Oxford’s Hunter Keller drill a trey as time expired on Dec. 27. “We didn’t dwell on anything. These guys were ready to go as soon as the next game came. That comes from good senior leadership with Justin (Marks), Mickey (Meier) and Zach (Bedryczuk).”
Marks returned to the Woodland lineup against the Wolverines after missing the first few weeks of the season due to an injury sustained playing football. In the two-game tournament, Marks netted 22 points, behind only Bedryczuk’s 33 and Meier’s 24.
The Hawks (2-4) cruised past Thomaston and held a double-digit lead nearly the entire game. It was an example of the confidence Hunt sees building in his squad.
“We’re getting more and more game experience, and as we get more game experience, I think we’re coming together more as a team,” Hunt said. “Guys are starting to understand their roles. As they grow to understand their roles, we get better. I’m happy the way the season is going as we’re getting better as a team.”
In addition to the senior tri-captains, several underclassmen have made early-season impacts. Freshman Jason Palmieri has emerged as the starting point guard, scoring seven points against the Bears. Freshman Nate Bodnar and sophomore Nathanel Smith, the latter of whom started in the post until Marks’ return, have also seen consistent playing time. They’ll continue to see significant minutes after a hand injury suffered by junior Mike Szturma.
Hunt also credited the play of junior Tyler Bulinski off the bench.
“Tyler Bulinski has been coming off the bench as the sixth man, and he gives us that enthusiasm to keep us motivated,” Hunt said. “He’s got the mentality of a quarterback, so he commands leadership.”
As more players continue to see time on the varsity court, Hunt said he will extend the bench and even consider hockey-style line changes if opposing matchups present themselves.
“These guys are working,” Hunt said. “I have the utmost confidence in going nine or 10 (players) deep. These guys will keep gaining more and more experience.”
The game against Oxford was Woodland’s first as a member of the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division, which includes the five lower-Valley schools.
The Hawks continued divisional play Jan. 4 against Ansonia, a 66-55 loss. Woodland received 21 points from Meier and 10 apiece from Bedryczuk and Palmieri.
Woodland will face Kaynor Tech on Tuesday in a nonconference matchup before continuing divisional play Thursday at Seymour and Jan. 16 vs. Derby.
“We’re happy to be in the lower Valley with our rivals,” Hunt said.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated from the version published in the Jan. 10 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played after press time.