Woodland, Naugatuck among teams that will try to chase down St. Paul in NVL baseball tourney

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BY KYLE BRENNAN
CITIZEN’S NEWS
There’s a lot of parity entering the Naugatuck Valley League baseball tournament, but there’s a clear favorite to take home the league championship.
St. Paul, which was ranked fourth in the state media poll May 9, was 19-0 (16-0 NVL) through May 13, thanks to its lineup full of home-run hitters.
“With St. Paul being undefeated, the path for any of the other seven teams in the tournament to win an NVL championship is going to mean finding a way past St. Paul,” Woodland coach Steve Bainer said.
Still, Bainer sees plenty of competition throughout the bracket — Woodland and Naugatuck are among the hopefuls.
“I fully believe that the NVL tournament is the most competitive tournament that it has been in years, and any of the eight teams that get into the tournament can win it,” Bainer said.
Plus, if last year’s tournament was any indication, this one could be chaotic.
“Last year both the No. 7 and 8 seeds won first-round [games] and we have seen many upsets this season,” Naugatuck coach Joe Iannotti said.
Woodland was 14-5 (12-5 NVL) through May 13, good for second place after winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with Torrington. That would delay a possible meeting with the Falcons until the final on May 25.
The Hawks had a perfect game thrown against them in their May 9 meeting at St. Paul, but Woodland has an ace of its own in Michael Belcher. Plus, Bainer thinks the Hawks’ potential lies ahead of them.
“I don’t believe we have played our best baseball yet this season,” Bainer said. “I feel like we have all of the physical tools and abilities needed to compete with anyone. We have shown the ability to deliver great pitching, play great defense, and the ability to score runs, but we haven’t done those three things in sync with each other yet this season. For us to compete in the tournaments,
it’s going to take a high level of mental focus, playing team-first baseball, and continuing to work hard to get in sync with quality pitching, defense, and offense.”
Naugatuck, meanwhile, was 10-5 (9-5 NVL) through May 11, but the Greyhounds play in the NVL Iron Division, which is the league’s toughest with St. Paul, Torrington, Watertown, and Wolcott, all of which are in position to qualify for the eight-team tournament.
“For our team to make a run we need to limit the mistakes in the field,” Iannotti said.”Good teams will make you pay with the extra opportunities and increase your pitcher’s pitch count. Our pitchers need to get ahead of hitters and limit the walks. We also need to hit and get guys in to put less pressure on our pitching and defense.”
The league quarterfinals are set for May 21 at the sites of higher-seeded teams, followed by the semifinals May 23 and the final May 25, all at Municipal Stadium.