Eastern, Central rivals ready to do battle

By MICHAEL LETENDRE
STAFF WRITER
BRISTOL – It’s rivalry week once again as Bristol Central challenges Bristol Eastern on the court in hoop.
The girls game will feature one squad with one of the top scorers in city history while the other offers a fantastic, veteran duo.
For the boys, two athletic squads will do battle in what should be an amazing – and fun – 32 minute war on the hardwood to behold.
So what should we expect between the two schools?
Here’s a sneak peak:
Girls: Bristol Eastern vs. Bristol Central
Time and Location: Thursday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m., Bristol Central High School (Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium)
Current Series: The Lancers haven’t lost to the Rams in nearly a decade. The last time Central hung a loss on the Lancers came back on Feb. 16, 2004. The Rams won the contest 60-57 in a back-and-forth affair.
Players to Watch: Bristol Central – Ashley Elder (sr., forward/guard); Erika Monsalve (sr., forward/guard); Michaela Bossi (sr., forward), Esharra Walton (sr., forward); Alexa Caron (jr., forward); Ali Martel (jr., guard); Meghan Hamel (so., guard); Brianna Hamel (so., guard); Bristol Eastern – Daijia Brooks (sr., Forward/Center); Jamilla Shoultz (jr., forward/guard); Diana Wnuk (so., forward); Kianna Brooks (so., forward); Gianna D’Amato (jr., guard); Miya Laprise (so., guard); Jillian LeBeau (so., forward).
Bristol Central’s Record: At press time, the Rams are 5-6 but should have drawn even on the campaign with a victory against Maloney on Tuesday, January 20. Central – with a win over the Spartans – will have won five of six past games after starting 1-5.
Bristol Eastern’s Record: The Lancers are 10-1 at press time but with a victory this past Tuesday at Platt, Eastern wouldn’t have lost since mid-December against South Windsor (58-51). The Lancers should enter the contest on a nine-game winning streak.
Why Bristol Central could win: Central did a little scouting of Eastern last week after easily disposing of Bulkeley and knows what to expect from the Lancers. The tandem of Elder/Monsalve will have to each throw up double-figures in points and if Central has any chance in this one, Martel, Hamel, Walton and company have to all give something offensively.
Why Bristol Eastern could win: Defense, defense, defense. With the likes of Shoultz and D’Amato swiping the ball and Kianna and Daijia Brooks at forward getting into the passing lanes, the Lancers will turn miscues and turnovers into lay-ups for quick points. And those points could pile up quick.
Why Bristol Central could lose: Central can’t up-tempo this thing. The Rams are at home and must dictate the pace. If the Lancers are allowed to run up and down the court, it’s going to be a long night for Central. And I’m wondering how the squad handles Daijia Brooks on defense (double-team, zone, box-and-one). Man, the elder Brooks is tough to handle.
Why Bristol Eastern could lose: Eastern has to make every shot count. Yes, the squad will force turnovers and yes, the Lancers should out-shoot this squad. But missing shots along the way could prove costly.
Games’s X-Factor: Eastern’s Diana Wnuk. She’s still a youngster but is quickly  becoming an extreme all-around talent. Wnuk can hit three’s, rebound and will defend. You spend a ton of time defending Daijia Brooks and the D’Amato/Shoultz combination but Wnuk can really burn you if left alone.
And the winner is…Eastern wins this one by 25 points and frankly, it might be even a little bit more. I don’t think Central has a one-on-one defender to slow down Daijia Brooks but the Rams will try. This thing could be close early but between the city’s best player and Eastern’s suffocating defense, Central could be in for a bit of an uphill climb.
Boys: Bristol Central vs. Bristol Eastern
Time and Location: Friday, Jan. 23, 7 p.m., Bristol Eastern High School (Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium)
Current Series: The Rams swept the season series last year (68-45 on Jan. 24, 2014 and 37-33 from Eastern Feb. 24, 2014). Bristol Eastern last won the city series challenge back on Feb. 18, 2013, picking up a 55-39 win from Bristol Central High School. Central has won their last three straight contests against Eastern.
Players to Watch: Bristol Eastern – Daron McKoy (sr., guard); Darieyn Tate (jr., guard); Kevin Love (sr., forward/center); George Taylor III (sr., guard); Tommy Curtin (sr., forward); Kahseym Fortune (sr., guard/forward) Bristol Central – Landon Rutledge (sr., center); Jason Severino (sr., guard); Ed Rodriguez (sr., guard); D.J. Dort (sr., forward); Shawn Caron (sr., guard); Jamil Tolliver (sr., forward/center); Denzel Miller (sr., forward); Jerry LaPenta (sr., guard); Rich Lemke (sr., guard); Aaron Collins (so., forward); Jamil Hornesby (fr., guard).
Bristol Eastern’s Record: At press time, the Lancers are 5-4 overall (2-3 in the CCC South) and have lost two straight games, both by seven points and both were winnable games. This past Tuesday, Eastern was home against Platt for a CCC South encounter, a game the Lancers should have won.
Bristol Central’s Record: The Rams are 7-3 entering the week. However, excluding the opening night loss at East Catholic (75-48), Central is 7-2 and posted those two losses (at Middletown and versus Cheshire in Plainville) by a total of two points. The Rams were home against Maloney this past Tuesday, a game Central could have won as well.
Why Bristol Central could win: Like last season, it’s all about size for the Rams and the Rutledge/Tolliver duo can rebound with the best of them. In the last couple of games for the Lancers, opponents have punished the squad on the offensive glass. That’s a chance for someone like Tolliver to shine. And don’t forget about the crafty L.J. Johnson. He’s a legitimate gamer.
Why Bristol Eastern could win: This offense is one of the most balanced shooting squads Eastern has employed since 1999-00 (Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette played under Eastern coach Mike Giovinazzo back then). Every Eastern starter is capable of notching 10-plus points in the game and overall, this team averages the most points per game since the squad of 1993-94. And that includes the three-point shooting of McKoy, the finesse game of Love and the big game shooting of Taylor.
Why Bristol Central/Bristol Eastern could lose: This game will come down to turnovers and, truly, the team that commits the fewest will win this showdown – guaranteed. This could be one of those Central/Eastern battles that the teams could combine for 40, maybe even upwards, of 50 turnovers. Take care of the ball and you win the game. Sounds simple enough, right?
X-Factor: Central’s Jamil Hornesby. This young man (he’s only a freshman) has already had some big moments on the hardwood for the Rams and if he’s in the starting line-up, Hornesby can do a little of everything on the court. But, as anyone knows about these games, there’s a lot of familiarity between most of these players. Hornesby, from North Carolina, will be a part of this rivalry for just the first time. Maybe, that will be of benefit…maybe not. 
And the winner is…Eastern defends home court, winning it by five. Finally, Eastern will hold off a talented team in the fourth quarter to post the victory. Against Newington, Middletown, Maloney, and Bulkeley, the Lancers were caught sleeping in all those fourth period encounters – going 0-4 in those games. And before the season, Barrette said that the BC/BE will be one of the most athletic games in recent memory. And that’s what to expect this Friday night.