By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — Coming out of a three-game losing streak, Woodland boys basketball coach John Mariano liked the progress his Hawks were making.
That progress paid off with a 57-39 win over Oxford on March 3 that lifted Woodland to a 3-4 record just beyond the midway point of the truncated regular season.
Mariano noted that the momentum actually started March 1 in a 73-64, double-overtime loss to Derby and spilled over into practice.
“We played more of our style of basketball, but we just didn’t come out with the win,” Mariano said of the loss to the Red Raiders. “That carried into [the Oxford game]. We got a good win on the road. We’ve had good intensity in practice.”
In a condensed season full of games against division rivals, Mariano said mental toughness and strong leadership are necessary for success and growth.
“I thought we had to be mentally tougher to beat [Seymour and Ansonia],” Mariano said, referencing back-to-back defeats against the Valley foes at the end of February. “I realize there are no states, but I’m treating this season just like we did last year in terms of what I expect from myself and from the players. We talked a lot last year about how our upperclassmen are trying to show the underclassmen the way, and we’re asking our seniors and juniors to do the same this year. They’re doing a great job. Our practices have been a lot better of late, so that aspect of the mentality is huge to build the program.”
Better practices have also led to better performances. Senior Nathaniel Smith scored 27 points against Oxford after netting 21 against Derby. Senior Joe Giuliani also finished in double figures in each game.
“Than Smith the last few games has absolutely turned it on,” Mariano said. “He was awesome against Oxford and Derby. You can see that he and Joey Giuliani are trying to make the most of this season. Conrad Filippone is really playing hard of late. I couldn’t be more thankful for the way they’re playing.”
Junior point guard Brady Anderson is also coming on strong. He netted 10 points against Ansonia, 11 against Derby and five against Oxford, drilling a combined six 3-pointers.
“Brady brings IQ, skill and organization to us,” Mariano said. “He’s doing a really nice job of getting us into our stuff. He makes sure we’re executing what we need to be doing. A lot of teams we play change up their defenses, so he’s doing a lot of work to recognize that. He’s a good shooter and we want him to take those shots.”
Mariano continued to praise the defensive efforts of junior Nate Bodnar, who the coach noted “continues to prove that he can guard the best players in the league and make things difficult for them.”
The Hawks have five regular-season games left: March 5 at Torrington, March 9 vs. Seymour, March 12 at Waterbury Career, March 15 at Ansonia and March 17 vs. Wolcott.
A Naugatuck Valley League postseason tournament is set to conclude the month. Mariano not only aims to have his team playing its best basketball at that point, but also to keep their focus down the stretch.
“I think we owe it to the seniors and everyone on the team to keep improving and playing hard,” Mariano said. “We’re so thankful that we’re here, so we need to do our best every day.”