By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – There wasn’t any doubt that Bristol Eastern softball sensation Jenifer Tabacco would be able to pitch at the collegiate level.
She has natural ability – harnessed from a young age – and throughout the years, Tabacco has been displaying her trade at various different levels.
Tabacco was a Bristol Girls Little League Softball city series champion with the Tigers, coached by her father Tom, and was a warrior during the summer months – whether it was with the CT Lady Knights or playing for other squads in several games across New England and beyond.
And when a familiar college, who has plucked some of the best talent the Mum City has produced over the years – came calling, the pairing seemed like a natural one.
And Tabacco, in front of family and friends, signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. at a ceremony from the 150 Central Restaurant in Forestville on Thursday, Nov. 12.
UMASS is a NCAA Division I program, a member of the Atlantic-10 Conference, and it’s quite an accomplishment for Tabacco and her family, one they can be proud of.
“Her hard work has really paid off,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “She lives in the weight room when she’s not on the field. Her dedication, her hard work to her craft is really paying off.”
Over the years, softball studs Jen Hadley, Audrey Boutin, and Sara Plourde of Bristol Eastern along with Bristol Central’s Davina Hernandez were all signed by UMass and had tremendous careers for the program.
“She’s following four great people that went to UMass,” said Bristol Central faculty manager Bob DeSantis. “[Jen] is the fifth…what a group to be in.”
Members of both the Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central softball community helped to celebrate the signing and Tabacco’s excellence on the mound is well known at both schools.
“When I was asking people about Jen, they use the words dedication, competitor, [and] hard worker,” said DeSantis. “But I think the intangible they left out is you can’t teach mental toughness.”
Last season, Tabacco made the CCC South All Conference team and was a presence in the Lancers’ line-up on both sides of the ball.
When she wasn’t chucking the ball at long time teammate, catcher Mikayla Martin, Tabacco batted just under .420 with 26 hits and four homers for the season.
And UMass might call on Tabacco to make some plate appearances as well and even Plourde – during her final campaign in college – nearly made 100 plate appearances and batted nearly .300.
In fact, most of that former Central and Eastern standout talent from UMASS has been able to work with Tabacco over the years.
Hernandez and Plourde have been teaching and coaching Tabacco through various programs over the years and saw first hand what she the chucker could do at the mound and from the plate.
And Tabacco left the duo very impressed.
Hernandez is proud of Tabacco, calling her “an amazing player” and telling the crowd at 150 Central that the soon to be collegiate athlete earned everything she had through hard work.
Her talent, her dedication and her work ethic is why Tabacco is where she is today.
“Most people think because of the connections that Sara and I have at UMass that we got Jen into UMass,” said Hernandez.
“That’s probably the biggest misconception because I got a call from [the UMass coach] saying ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this kid sooner?’”
“She earned this on her own, not because of us but because of who she is.”
Plourde also worked with and coached Tabacco and saw first hand the improvements she made from year to year.
“I met Jen when she was eight and it was kind of just luck that we ran into each other,” said Plourde of meeting Tabacco. “From there, we just had this awesome bond. She’s just been such an easy person to coach.”
Plourde, along with Hadley, were some of the best pitchers in the history of the UMASS program.
The former All-State standout has seen some talented pitching along the way and Plourde has been able to witness the progression of Tabacco and her skill-set first hand.
“She just gets it, she remembers things and she just works her butt off,” said Plourde. “She’s still pushing the envelope. She doesn’t ever stop.”
Plourde also believes that Tabacco has the right attitude to achieve at the collegiate level – both on and off the field – and should fit right in on the UMass campus.
But there’s still more work to be done on the scholastic level, whether it’s in the weight room, another winter throwing program and, of course, the upcoming high school season.
Redman is looking forward to coaching Tabacco one more season before she heads off to UMass.
And he’s expecting big things from his senior in the Bristol Eastern line-up.
“She’s in the middle of our [batting] line-up in every game,” said Redman. “She’s a staple in the line-up. She crushes the ball. She stabilizes us in the circle as well.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE