By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The softball team from Bristol Central was just a game away from getting into the Class LL finals last season. And the expectations should be high again in 2014 as a number of veterans return to the field and under the tutelage of second year coach Nicole Shook, you can expect big things from the Rams.
How big? Let’s take a look:
Head Coach: Nicole Shook (2nd year)
Last season’s Ledger: 21-3 overall, 12-2 CCC South (first place, CCC South champions)
2013 Tournament: Ranked 2nd in the Class LL field, the Rams dumped No. 31 Fairfield Warde, blasted No. 18 Conard 11-1 in the second round, defeated No. 23 West Haven 2-0 in the quarterfinals before finally falling to No. 6 Mercy, 9-2, in the semifinals.
All Conference Performers from 2013: Olivia Banulski, Ileish Burney, Jodi DiSanto, Lauren Vallee
Key Losses: Jodi DiSanto (C, Southern Connecticut State University); Rachel Jurzyk (RF)
Strength: Returning veterans; plenty of experience
Players to Watch: Ileish Burney (sr., P); Christina Bouvier (sr., 1B); Katie Curry (sr., 3B); Lauren Vallee (sr., 2B); Allie Martel (so., SS); Olivia Banulski (sr., CF); Chandler Walker (sr., LF); Brittany Stancavage (so); Sam Laviero (so.); McKenna Driscoll (so.); Lindsay Holden (so.).
What to expect from the Rams: Anytime you lose just a couple players off a state title contending softball team, you already have the makings of a big season.
True, expectations should be tempered off the bat but once this squad displays some chemistry – which should be quickly – Central should be in line for another CCC South championship.
The battery might look a little different at one end but at the other, an amazing pitcher returns for her senior campaign.
All-Conference performer Ilesih Burney (19-3, 65 strikeouts, 1.67 ERA in 2013) pretty much pitched lights out all season long and only stumbled on a couple of occasions.
She gave up just 35 earned runs in 145-plus innings and is as experienced a chucker as there is in all of Class LL.
Burney sets the tone and though she’ll have a new mate catching for the squad off the graduation of all CCC South performer Jodi Disanto, the team will have more than a few familiar faces back on the field.
Senior Olivia Banulski (.543, 44 hits, 39 runs, 7 doubles, 14 RBI) helped to make up one of the toughest outfields in all of the CCC South in 2014 while the ultra-talented Chandler Walker (.403, 31 hits, 20 RBI, 19 runs) is going to have a huge senior campaign for the Rams.
Those performers bring quite a defensive punch to the field as does fellow senior Lauren Vallee (.425, 31 hits, 18 RBI). Vallee was tough in the infield last season and again, it’s all about the defense with her as well.
Senior Katie Curry (.365 23 hits, 20 runs) is also a defensive standout at third base while sophomore Allie Martel (.300, 21 hits, 20 RBI) is a jack of all trades and if she mans shortstop again this season, Central is in good hands.
Senior Christina Bouvier (.263, 15 hits, 11 RBI) has been a valuable part of the squad for years now while at first base sophomore Sam Laviero (.211, 15 hits, 9 RBI) was a solid hitter in the Rams line-up from day one.
Others that should be in the mix include sophomores Brittany Stancavage, Lindsay Holden, and McKenna Driscoll.
The key players are already in place for this talented Central squad and as long as the Rams keeps its collective focus, then only good things are in store for the team.
CCC South Outlook: For goodness sakes, is there a better squad in all the CCC South than Central?
Berlin might have something to say about that as will Maloney.
Plainville should be improved and don’t sleep on Eastern as the team has more numbers than ever at its disposal.
Comments? Email mlentendre@BristolObserver.com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE