Defense comes thru for Eastern

By MICHAEL LETENDRE
STAFF WRITER
BRISTOL – If the Bristol Eastern softball team is going to be successful this season, defense will be the key.
It’s quite apparent the squad can drill the ball all over the field but when those slick gloves are making stops, the Lancers are even more successful.
And even after Eastern was trailing 3-0 after just a half inning in a league contest against Middletown, the Lancers settled down, made some outstanding defensive plays and let the offense take it from there.
In the end, Eastern scored seven straight runs to end the game – playing near perfect defense to back up an outstanding effort from pitcher Jenifer Tabacco – as the Lancers downed the Blue Dragons by a 7-3 final in both squads CCC South openers from Bristol Eastern High School on Wednesday, April 15.
With the victory, Eastern moved to 2-2 on the campaign while Middletown lost for the first time this season, falling to 1-1.
And after Middletown’s Olivia Sprague drilled a two-RBI triple to propel the Blue Dragons to that 3-0 edge, Middletown had just one hit – an infield tally by Sam Pizzoria – the rest of the way. 
“After the first inning, the defense wasn’t weak but we shored up after that,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “There were a lot of clean innings.”
Tabacco was energized from the start and as the defense ramped up the pressure, Middletown’s offense was non-existent.
She struck out five while walking just one batter in another complete game performance.
“With Tabacco, she’s got a ton of movement on her pitches,” said Redman. “We tell our girls, she’s not going to strikeout double-digit girls. She’s going to let the ball be put in play and we want ground balls and we got them today. And the girls made a ton of plays.”
And whether it was a good throw from third basemen Jillian Maghini to punch out a runner, a slick stop at first by Michaela Sassu or a momentum building putout from short-stop Charline Plasczynski, the Blue Dragons were short several base-runners throughout the affair.
Credit also belonged to the Eastern outfield as Makenzie Jankowski (center field), Samantha Bender (left), and Shelby Sandstrom (right) tracked down everything in sight to keep Middletown frustrated offensively.
“The outfield…made a couple of run-saving catches in all parts of the outfield today,” said Redman. “That was real nice to see as well.”
Mikayla Martin was stellar behind the plate to complete a strong battery along with Tabacco and freshman Jordan Fitzsimons played a very solid second base to lead the Eastern charge.
Offensively, the Lancers total of 13 hits told the story as well.
Martin went a neat 3-for-4 with two doubles, while Tabacco (triple, two RBI), Placzynski (two hits, two runs) and Jankowski (two singles, sacrifice bunt) paced the offensive onslaught.
Overall, the top of the line-up went a combined 9-of-15 and set the tone of the contest.
But contributions also came from Maghini (2-for-3, run, RBI), Kelley (1-for-3), Sassu (1-of-4, 2 RBI), Bailey Wyrebek (RBI), Fitzsimons (sacrifice bunt), and Nicole D’Amato (walk).
“Up and down the line up, subs, starters…it was a nice problem to have,” said Redman of his squad’s hot hitting.
Middletown jumped on Eastern quickly in the first as an RBI fielder’s choice by Maddy Feshler put the visitors on the board while a two-RBI triple from Sprague saw the Blue Dragons pick up a 3-0 edge only halfway through the first inning.
However, that would be all the offense Middletown would muster as Eastern scored runs over the next four innings to seize the lead for good.
“They didn’t overreact, they didn’t lose confidence,” said Redman of his squad and the early deficit. “They chipped away. They continued to tack [runs] on, inning by inning. We didn’t have an inning where we got more than two [runs]. But we scored at least one in five out of six innings.”
In the bottom of the first, Tabacco sent an RBI single up the middle to cut it to a 3-1 game after one.
In the second, Kelly singled to get on, moved to second off the Fitzsimons bunt and Maghini followed up with a RBI tally to right and quickly, the Lancers were within one, 3-2, at the end of the second frame.
Martin opened the third with a double and when Samantha Bender came in the game to pinch run, she moved to third via a passed ball and scored when Wyrebek sent a ball to second base that was misplayed and suddenly, the game was a 3-3 stalemate.
And Eastern nabbed the lead for good in the fourth off a blazing triple to left-center field by Tabacco – scoring Maghini – as the Lancers zipped up a 4-3 push.
And then off anothermisplayed ball, Tabacco crossed the plate and at 5-3, Eastern built a small cushion after four completed frames.
After not scoring in the fifth, the Lancers ambled up a 7-3 push in the sixth when Sassu blitzed a two-RBI base hit to left and with one frame remaining, the Lancers 7-3 lead was an imposing tally on the scoreboard.
Tabacco retired the final 10 batters she faced -shutting the side in the seventh – as Eastern wrapped up and impressive 7-3 victory.
“When you’re chipping away and getting one or two [runs] every inning, that leads to a pretty good total in the end,” said Redman.