By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Is the Bristol Central softball team finally going to fall from the upper echelons of the CCC South Blue Division?
True, the squad has lost several four-year performers and the Rams will turn to several unproven starters this year.
But are those underclassmen ready for the challenge? Bristol Central head coach Monica Hayes seems to think they are.
Let’s take a quick look at the Bristol Central softball squad and see what’s ahead for the Rams:
Head Coach: Monica Hayes (3rd year)
Overall Record: 29-14
Last season’s Ledger: 16-6 overall, 7-1 CCC South Blue (first place)
2016 Tournament: Ranked 7th in the Class LL field, the Rams fell in second round play to upstart No. 23 Darien 7-6 from Bristol Central high school.
All Conference Performers from 2016: McKenna Driscoll, Ali Holden, Sam Laviero, Allie Martel
Weakness: Loss of several contributing players
Key Losses: Allie Martel (SS); McKenna Driscoll (C); Brittany Stancavage; Sam Laviero (INF); Lindsey Holden (INF); Alexa Caron (OF)
Players to Watch: Ali Holden (sr., P), Sarah Strilkauskas (sr., 3B, Captain), Kayla Beaulieu (so., 1B), Sierra Reed (jr., OF), Jenna Ptak (so., 2B), Sarah Guerin (so, OF.), Gianna Anneli (so., OF), Makenzie Lewis (so., OF/P); Xia’an Curasco (jr., OF/1B), Mia Santilli (fr., utility), Morgan Greger (fr., UTL), Peyton Greger (fr., SS), Alexia Antonio (fr., OF), Mia Santilli (fr., OF), Caitlyn Pacitto (fr., C).
What to expect from the Rams: While this squad might be a wee bit on the young side, there’s always been a willingness to win within the Bristol Central softball program and that’s exactly what a talented freshmen class did four years ago.
That special 2013 freshmen class, headlined by Allie Martel, McKenna Driscoll, Brittany Stancavage and Sam Laviero, were all in those same exact shoes as freshmen and most of those athletes were very productive four-year performers and helped the squad nearly averaged .400 at the plate during their senior campaign.
Now, who from the freshmen class is going to step up in 2017?
“’Out with the old, in with the new’ is the adage we coach’s go by these days,” said Hayes. “The loss of those talented and well-decorated seniors (and non-returners) left many holes to fill. However, there are some new, young, talented individuals who are relishing the opportunity to perform at the varsity level. That being said, we are very inexperienced across the board. It’s going to be a “trial by fire” of sorts for many kids this year. We will struggle at times, especially offensively.”
And it’s that strength of that underclassmen group that could be just what jumpstarts this program as well.
So don’t be entirely surprised when the likes of sophomores Makenzie Lewis (outfield/pitcher), Kayla Beaulieu (first base, .471 batting average in 2016, eight hits, three RBI), Gianna Anneli (outfield), and Jenna Ptak (second base, .361 average, 22 hits, 14 RBI) start to produce on both sides of the ball.
Because some of those then freshmen had a pretty good start to their scholastic careers.
“With many young teams, I expect some inconsistency in execution,” said Hayes. “But I also anticipate, and have already seen, lots of learning and improvement from these young players. I imagine our starting lineup will change more than it has in the past, from game to game, as we try to find the best possible product to put on the field.”
And some freshmen might get time right off the bat as well.
Mia Santilli (utility), Morgan Greger (utility), Peyton Greger (shortstop), Alexia Antonio (outfield), and Caitlyn Pacitto (catcher) might be first year members of the Bristol Central softball program but have all grown up playing an excellent brand of Little League baseball within the city limits in Bristol and beyond.
However, it’s all not newbies and inexperienced talent for Central as senior Sarah Strilkauskas (.246, 14 hits, 12 RBI) is the captain of the squad and is an excellent third basemen while pitching stud Ali Holden (.422, 35 hits, 18 RBI) is another veteran hand the younger players will turn to.
“Our success, in terms of wins/losses, will depend on how well they can adjust to varsity softball, becoming a cohesive unit, and/or playing new positions,” said Hayes. “The excitement they bring on a daily basis is refreshing. I expect to have solid pitching from Ali and consistent defense at third base from the only other senior, also our lone captain, Sarah Strilkauskas.”
Holden is going to be the key to it all on the mound (16-6 in 2016, 145.1 innings, 91 strikeouts, 20 walks, 2.07 ERA) and the senior is more than ready for the competition.
The chucker has plenty of experience and could be one of the top three pitchers in all the league.
If Central can put the right defensive mix in place, the senior could have a very special year on the mound.
“Ali returns to the mound for the Rams for her final season [and] I expect her to give everything she has left in her senior season to help lead our team to the tournament,” said Hayes. “She has always been a consistently accurate and effective pitcher. Finding the right defensive combination behind her will be a big task for us.”
Holden is the real deal and if Central wants to continue its impressive state tournament qualification streak, she’s going to be one of the main cogs in achieving that goal.
CCC South Outlook: There’s always parody in the CCC South in terms of softball but Hayes sees a couple different challengers rising in the league.
And one of those top squads resides just across town.
“Newington, Bristol Eastern – any team with solid and dominant pitching can be a threat,” said Hayes.
Big Showdowns of the season: Southington comes to Bristol on April 19 in a huge CCC Interdivisional showdown at 3:45 p.m. while the challenge against Newington comes on the road on May 5 at 4:15 p.m.
Then of course on May 1 and May 22, Central and Eastern battle in the city series clashes.
Bristol Central plays its home games from the varsity softball field at the high school.