By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Off a huge home run to open the first inning by Bristol Central leadoff hitter Olivia Banulski, the softball squad went on the attack early in its Class LL quarterfinal playoff encounter with Daniel Hand on Friday, June 6.
In fact, that solo home run was the start of something bigger as Central went for four additional runs and the home team piled up a 5-0 push after just one inning of play.
But with any early edge, the advantage did not hold as the Tigers scored eight straight runs, netting a three-run cushion that mostly held until the final pitch was thrown.
In the end, No. 5 Daniel Hand slipped past No. 4 Bristol Central, 8-7, to end the Rams’ season in state tournament play.
Both teams ended the contest with identical 19-4 records as Hand moved on to square off against top seeded Southington, a 2-1 quarterfinal victor over Cheshire, in the semifinals.
The Rams left it all on the table in the showdown that was a back and forth classic with each team battling through adversity until the very end.
Even as Central faced a three-run deficit late, the squad almost put all the parts into play to make what would have been an amazing comeback.
“They have battled back and we battled here to the end today,” said Bristol Central coach Nicole Shook. “That shows a lot of character and that’s what this team has been defined on.”
Banulski led the way, going 3-for-4, with two RBI and a run scored while Chandler Walker, Lindsey Holden, and Allison Holden each tallied two his apiece for the Rams.
Annah Curcio zipped up three hits and three RBI for Hand while teammates Hollis Wivell, Hannah Leckey, and Sam Pavano all added two hits in the winning endeavor.
But the Rams attacked early and boy, that 5-0 push Central compiled to open the game looked ever so sweet.
“I think we felt confident, but we know that Hand is a really great team and you’ve got to give it to them today,” said Shook. “They came out and they battled, too. I think two great teams went at it today, and you know, any day, it could go any way. So today just wasn’t our day.”
It was 1-0 off the bat of Banulski as her fly-ball rolled all the way to the fence for the home run but the scoring antics by the Rams were just starting to unfold.
Katie Curry followed up with a single and off a sacrifice by Ali Martel, it was Lauren Vallee’s chance to knock in a run.
Vallee drilled a shot to right-center that the Hand outfielder’s had to chase.
Curry scored and Vallee – rounding third – tried to follow suit with an inside-the-park-homer but was struck down at the plate.
Even off the second out of the inning, Central pushed its lead to 2-0.
From there, Chandler Walker added a base-hit and then catcher McKenna Driscoll was at the plate next, ready to make an impact.
Her RBI double plated Walker and Central nabbed a 3-0 tilt but was still looking for more.
Lindsay Holden blasted out an RBI single and the other Holden sister, Ali, tallied an RBI double of her own to make it an imposing 5-0 lead for the home squad.
Christina Bouvier came through with a single as Ali Holden was looking to score.
But for the second time in the stanza, a Central player was punched out at the plate as the inning was completed.
“You know coaches, sometimes, we make bad decisions,” said Shook of the runners called out at home. “I take that all on me. That was my bad decision there.”
However, off the nine Central batters that came to the plate, five runs were scored and Hand was in trouble, down 5-0.
Central pitcher Ileish Burney cruised over the first two frames but gave up one in the third off an error.
Maddy Yaggi raced out a bunt hit, stole second, and crossed the plate off a ball that was thrown away but at 5-1, Central was still in command after three innings of work.
However, in the top of the fourth, the Tigers grabbed the lead for good.
Off a great catch byWalker to start the fourth frame, Hand went on the attack.
With runners on second and third, Allison Butler laid down a squeeze bunt – plating Sam Pavano – as Central’s lead was cut to 5-2.
Later in the stanza, Leckey flipped in an RBI single, Wivell added an RBI base hit to make it a 5-4 game and off a damning triple to centerfield by Curcio, the bases were emptied as the Tigers zipped up a 7-5 lead after four completed frames.
In the bottom of the fifth, Central put some parts into motion and had runners on first and second with Lindsay Holden at the plate.
With two outs, Walker sent a single into right and Driscoll drew a walk to put the go-ahead runner on first base.
Holden lined a shot that looked destined for the outfield but was scooped in by Pavano for the third out and Hand’s 7-5 lead remained intact. In the top of the sixth, Leckey singled to open the frame, moved to second via sacrifice bunt and was plated off a base hit by Annah Curcio.
The important insurance run made it a 8-5 game.
However, Central got two runs back in its portion of the sixth and it was quickly a one run game.
Ali Holden singled, was bunted over by Bouvier, and with pinch runner Brittany Stancavage on second, Banulski sent an RBI single to right field and quickly, the Rams were trailing by just a 8-6 tally.
Curry bounced into a fielder’s choice but two consecutive batters – Martel and Vallee – reached base via error as Curry eventually scored and it became a one run game at 8-7.
“Even when it’s 8-5, I knew that we were going to come back,” said Shook. “I have full confidence, they have full confidence at the plate. They go into each at bat with a lot of confidence and that’s most important. Again, it’s a testament to them.”
And with runners on first and third, Walker was at the plate and the Rams were looking to tie it up and possibly take the lead off a hit.
But Walker just got under the pitcher – grounding out to first – as Hand was holding on to its 8-7 tilt.
Burney put down the side in order in the top of the seventh and trailing by just one, Central had three more outs to make something happen and grab the final lead in the game.
The ball never made it out of the infield as Omdahi retired three straight batters and Hand held on to win it by a single run at 8-7.
It was the final scholastic game for Central seniors Katie Curry, Christina Bouvier, Olivia Banulski, Ileish Burney, Lauren Vallee, and Chandler Walker.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE