By MICHAEL LETENDRE
WEST HARTFORD – The Bristol Eastern softball team ran into a bit of a stumbling block during its 2015-16 debut against Conard in West Hartford on Friday, April 8.
But the Lancers also showed how successful the squad could be if all the pieces were put into play.
Against the Chieftains, a senior-laden squad, Eastern fell behind early and could not get over that hump as the Lancers fell 9-2 in Central Connecticut Conference Interdivisional action on a very raw and windy day.
Eastern put the ball in play, earned six walks along the way but could scratch across just two runs as the Lancers left over half-a-dozen runners in scoring position on the day.
“I told them reflecting on our hitting and the offensive side of the ball, against a really good pitcher, we had a lot of opportunities to score runs,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “We had a girl thrown out at the plate. With the top of the order up, that cut down an opportunity as well. We had multiple innings when [if we] had one more key hit here, one more key hit there, it would have made a huge difference.”
The Lancers spaced out five hits against senior pitcher Bridget Garach (7 IP, 2 ER, 5 hits, 4 K’s) who snuck out of several jams the Eastern offense put the chucker in.
But, to her credit, she managed to force the Lancers into ground-ball outs and ended threats with minimal runners crossing the plate for the visitors.
“In conditions like this, you’re going to miss from time to time and Conard capitalized,” said Redman. “The bottom of the [Conard] order was extremely potent today, put the ball all over the field, and that was a big difference.”
Eastern pitcher, senior Jenifer Tabacco, battled to the very end, wrangling up two strikeouts and three walks, allowing nine runs off 12 total hits over seven innings of work.
She retired six of the first seven batters she faced, allowed three runs in the bottom of the third to allow Conard to secure the initial edge in the contest – never allowing the Lancers a stranglehold in the tilt.
Tabacco then sank seven straight batters before allowing two runs in the fifth and an additional four in the sixth as the Chieftains placed the ball just out of the reach of the Lancers’ defense on several occasions.
Conard senior Sarah Hoisl went a perfect 4-for-4 with a double and a run scored while fellow senior Sarah Hamilton added two hits and an RBI.
Senior Anna Kirkland went 2-of-3 with a triple and two runs scored, Stephanie Caldero notched an RBI double while Makayla Murphy came off the pine for a huge two-run double to left field.
Even as the Lancers trailed by a 5-1 push going into the top of the sixth frame, the visiting team put three runners on the base paths with no outs and quickly, the tying run was at the plate.
However, Eastern only managed one run to cut the deficit to three before that three-run sixth by the Chieftains did-in the Lancers.
It appeared as if Eastern was going to draw first blood in the game over the top of the third off a base-on-balls to Jillian Maghini, a sacrifice bunt by Ashley Redman – advancing the runner to second base – while Paige McLaughlin also walked to put two runners on.
A fielder’s choice by Makenzie Jankowski advanced the duo and Plasczynski looked poised to crack the game open.
But her liner to first base was handled by Conard senior Crysta Wolski as the ball was snuffed out of the air and the game remained a scoreless affair going into the bottom of the third inning.
“It’s a turnaround,” said Redman of the inning-ending play. “That first basemen stabs that and then Conard puts a crooked number up in the next half inning. Going right there from tying the game to down a few, those are the breaks. [Plasczynski] stung that ball.”
“She comes back [to the dugout] and says ‘sorry.’ I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me. She stung the ball, the girl stabbed it. It was a good defensive play.”
Then, Conard got on the board in the bottom of the third.
An RBI double by Stephanie Caldero – plus a controversial interference non-call that helped Conard see its first five batters reach base – was followed by an RBI single by Wolski and an RBI ground-out by Bridget Foley-Johnson made it a 3-0 contest after three.
In the top of the fourth, Fitzsimons generated a two out walk, Anna Kelley then belted a single to center and with runners on first and third, it was tomfoolery time.
Eastern went for the double steal as Kelley took second base, baiting the throw, and from there, Fitzsimons swiped home to cut the deficit to 3-1 after four innings.
Then in the bottom of the fifth, the Chieftains put two additional runs on the board.
An error by Eastern led to another run and off a single by the Conard pitcher, Wolski made it safely home as the game became a 5-1 affair in the home team’s favor.
But in the top of the sixth, the Lancers went for broke.
Mikayla Martin led off the stanza with a single to right and advanced to second via a passed ball.
Back-to-back walks by Fitzsimmons and Kelley loaded things up with no outs.
However, two quick outs later, the Lancers were on the verge of coming out of the inning without scoring a run.
Nicole D’Amato, coming into pinch-hit, came through with a base hit to center as Martin scored to cut it to a 5-2 deficit.
But Fitzsimmons tried to score from third base, was gunned down at the plate and Conard’s three-run edge remained intact.
“They made those little plays and we didn’t,” said Redman of Conard.
The Chieftains then padded its lead with four runs in the bottom of the tilt and at 9-2, the Lancers weren’t able to dent the deficit any further and bowed out by seven runs.
“I told them [at the end of the game] that was a good pitcher,” said Redman of Garach. “We put together some good at-bats against her. I’ll take that. We didn’t play well enough mentally, we didn’t play well enough defensively at all and Conard made plays that we didn’t.”