By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It was only a matter of time before the Bristol Central softball team was finally going to break through against Bristol Eastern.
And with two young studs battling on the pitcher’s mounds, it would be a contest in which the pitcher who made the fewest mistakes would get the win.
This time around, the game belonged to Central.
The Rams broke the game open early and cruised to a 6-3 CCC South victory over the Lancers from Bristol Central High School on Friday, May 3.
Central won for the eighth straight time and moved to 12-2 overall on the campaign and 6-2 in CCC South play.
The Rams opened the game in style as Olivia Banulski smashed a solo home run and off one additional run, the tone of the contest was set in favor of Central and the home team led 2-0 off the bat.
From there, everyone contributed in the resounding effort for the Rams.
“It is a big win for us and I’m really proud of the team,” said Central coach Nicole Shook. “We have come so far in the last couple of weeks and these kids work so hard. They’re finally realizing what it means to work hard and how successful they could be.”
“They are doing a great job…I’m really proud of them today.”
At one point, Eastern (7-6, 4-3) trailed 6-0 but did get into the flow offensively in the sixth frame with three runs to get back into the mix.
But even as the Lancers put runners on base during the third, fourth, and fifth tilts, that one loud hit that could have placed a couple additional runners across the plate but it simply never materialized.
“We couldn’t get a timely hit, period,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “When we didn’t score, we left girls on base all day.”
Eastern made critical miscues in the field as well allowing runners an extra base and giving the home team extra outs.
However, the Lancers did just enough to hang around in the game and give credit to the team, Eastern looked to be on the verge of getting right back into the fray late.
“Defensively, we just did not play well,” said Redman. “And considering how poorly we played, for them to only score 6 (runs) is actually somewhat impressive. We’re lucky to give up only six today, that’s for sure.”
When big pitches needed to be made on the day, Central chucker Ileish Burney was certainly up to the task and threw one heck of a game for the win.
She gave up just three hits and did not allow a base-on-balls while punching out seven in another commanding performance.
“Iliesh isn’t just tough, her pitches aren’t just tough, but she’s tough mentally out there,” said Shook of her ace thrower. “She pitched a two (or three)-hitter today against a very good team. And you’ve got to give it to Bristol Eastern. They’re solid, they really are. They made the plays today.”
Eastern’s offense didn’t show up until late in the game but over the first four frames of the game, Burney was just too tough and gave up one hit in a very impress performance.
“We’ve seen her kind of grow up over the years here, through the levels,” said Redman of Burney. “She stepped up in a big way. She’s not afraid to pitch to contact. She depends on her defense which is, overall, one of the best we’ve seen.”
Erika Ciccio, Kelsey Porter, and Taylor Winters all tallied hits for Eastern as Porter’s blast in the sixth was the Lancers’ biggest tally of the afternoon.
Losing pitcher Sarah Beliveau (9 hits, 6 BB’s, 7 Ks) helped her squad hang around in the contest but the Rams got the best of her this time around.
“She had to battle today,” said Redman of Beliveau. “She didn’t have her ‘A’ stuff and you can kind of tell she was breaking down a little bit. It showed her grittiness and it showed her competitiveness that she sucked it up and gave us a chance.”
Laviero (2-for-4, 2 runs) and Katie Curry (2-for-2) led the offense for Central while Lauren Vallee and Banulski (2-for-4) each collect two RBI for the victors.
With a 2-0 edge intact going into the second inning, Banulski tallied an RBI single as Laviero crossed home to make it a 3-0 contest.
With the Lancers quiet on the offensive front, Central notched three additional runs in the fourth frame to push its edge to 6-0.
The Rams had the bases juiced for Vallee and she slammed a two-RBI double while Chandler Walker followed up with a bases loaded walk and her RBI gave the home team its 6-0 cushion.
Finally in the Eastern sixth, the visitors made its push to make it a game again.
Beliveau and Ciccio each reached base off consecutive miscues by Burney and Porter followed up by blasting a 1-1 Burney offering into the outfield.
Porter’s shot went over the right fielder’s head and it appeared all three runners crossed the plate for a three-run homer to chop the deficit quickly in half.
But the ball bounced out of bounds towards the scoreboard and the umpire declared the hit a ground-run double and not a home run.
Beliveau scored off the tally to make it a 6-1 game.
“We have kids that are really, really, mentally tough,” said Shook. “Even Ileish, she made a couple of miscues there and usually, that can get to a pitcher. But not her. She’s just out there, she just shakes that off and she just looks towards the next (batter). That’s what we’ve been working on all season.”
With no outs and runners on second and third, Cheyenne Orsi followed up with an RBI ground-out and Maggie Getler slammed a ball to center as her sacrifice fly scored Porter and Eastern cut the deficit to 6-3.
But Burney settled down and got those critical outs to keep the visitors at bay.
“They got a little sloppy and gave us some chances that we jumped on,” said Redman. “But overall, they are solid defensively and Burney pitches to that strength.”
Burney retired Eastern in order to close out the seventh as the Rams held on for its 12th win of the campaign.
“We are feeling good but it still means that we need to maintain this focus and to not have a letdown,” said Shook. “Again, these kids are really working hard. I can’t ask any more of them. They’re diving in practice and they’re really bonding as a team. We have a lot of team chemistry and that’s half the battle right there.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE