By KYLE BRENNAN
BEACON FALLS — Facing some of the stiffest competition on its schedule, the Woodland boys basketball team hasn’t made it easy on the Naugatuck Valley League’s upper echelon.
Although the Hawks lost four straight contests from Jan. 25 through Feb. 8, they nearly pulled two upsets and tested two other opponents. That made head coach John Mariano proud of his squad.
“The kids’ effort has been absolutely terrific,” Mariano said. “I couldn’t be prouder. Their compete level on both ends has been excellent. Our schedule has been challenging. We [played] Kennedy, St. Paul, Waterbury Career, and Ansonia, all of which are talented teams and some of which are playing at the top of the league, and we battled with each one of them. Our guys are so competitive.”
The closest call came Feb. 28 in Bristol, when Woodland had St. Paul on the ropes. The Hawks lost a late lead, though, and the Falcons prevailed, 71-67, in overtime. A similar script followed Feb. 8 at Ansonia, when Woodland let another lead slip away in an 82-76 divisional defeat.
“We’re in the process of getting over the hump,” Mariano said. “We had opportunities to beat St. Paul and Ansonia with leads late in the game, and we haven’t closed it out. We’re doing everything we can as a program to create avenues for the kids to be successful. We’re knocking on the door.”
Offensive firepower hasn’t been an issue lately. Robby Moriarty poured in 30 points against St. Paul, while Danny Hartnett added 16 in that game. Moriarty went off for 19 more in a 73-60 loss to Waterbury Career on Feb. 1 and 17 against Ansonia.
“Robby Moriarty caught fire on offense,” Mariano said. “He’s making all sorts of shorts, particularly from behind the arc.”
Nate Bodnar, who’s played himself back into shape after missing the first half of the season with a leg injury, followed suit with 17 against WCA and 20 against Ansonia. Hartnett also scored 17 against the Chargers.
Mariano praised their efforts, plus those of Brady Anderson and Ethan Stepputtis.
“We always say that our strength is in our numbers, and we preach to the kids that they have to play together,” the coach said. “I’ve been happy with each kid. The group as a whole is playing well together. We’re trying to tighten up a few things down the stretch.”
Woodland entered its final four games with a 6-10 record. The Hawks needed two wins to qualify for the state tournament. Those games were set for Feb. 11 at Oxford, Feb. 15 vs. Derby, Feb. 18 vs. Ansonia, and Feb. 23 at Watertown.
The games against Valley foes were also crucial for NVL Copper Division play, where the Hawks were still alive for the divisional title.
“We’re in a four-game season, and we’re working on accomplishing something as a group, whether that’s winning a division championship, making the state tournament, or winning a state tournament game,” Mariano said. “We’re focusing on the one-day-at-a-time part of that, being open to that daily grind. A lot of times you focus on the result, but you can’t forget about the process. We’re working hard in the gym, doing film work, and prepping the best we can.”