By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Eight was enough for the Bristol Eastern softball team.
Eight was the number of consecutive losses the Lancers suffered against Bristol Central over the last four seasons.
But on Monday, May 1, that losing ledger was history as Eastern picked up a 3-0 win over the Rams, moving to 7-2 on the season, in a CCC South Blue Division battle from the softball field at Bristol Central.
The Rams (3-5) limited Eastern to just six hits in the contest but each tally led to something bigger as the Kingstreeters quietly padded their lead at critical points of the encounter.
“I wish we could have had a couple more timely hits,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “We got runners on all day. We created chances and yeah, we got one timely hit there to score the last [insurance] run. We had other chances I wish we could have converted and we could have opened the game up but we did what we had to.”
Eastern pitcher Erin Girard was exceptional once again, scooping up 11 strikeouts, allowing one free pass, and just two hits.
“She pitched really well today,” said Redman of his ace. “She hit a lot of spots. She kept good hitters off-balanced. She executed really well today and [catcher] Paige [McLaughlin] did a heck of a job as the backstop, you know, calling a great game, framing pitches [and] giving a good look to the umpires. She gets a lot of credit too.”
McLaughlin helped throw out a runner and was the director of traffic behind the plate and offensively. She roped in three critical hits – getting half of the Lancers total hit count on a sterling 3-of-3 performance.
“She did it all too,” said Redman of McLaughlin. “[She] laid down a beautiful bunt to get on the first time. She did it all. She had a really nice game today.”
Central pitcher Ali Holden more than held her own, collecting six strikeouts and allowing just six hits that led to three total runs.
“She’s pretty consistent,” said Central coach Monica Hayes of Holden. “That’s what you usually get from her. It’s just a matter of making plays behind her and that’s what we’ve always done. She’s not a strikeout pitcher. She never has been.”
“We’ve always made 17 or 18 plays behind her and now you can kind of see our inexperience is kind of being exploited when we’ve got to make those plays.”
But the hit of the game came off the bat of Eastern’s Jordan Fitzsimons with one out gone in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Fitzsimmons lofted a liner over the left fielder’s head and it was off to the races.
And as Fitzsimons came around third base, a beautiful throw came in to the plate, snared by Central catcher Morgan Greger in what could have been a bang-bang play.
But Fitzsimons crashed into the plate, the ball was bobbled and the Eastern runner was safe – making it a 2-0 game off the inside-the-park homer.
“Peyton [Greger] made a heck of a throw and I thought it should have been caught,” said Hayes. “[It’s] inexperience. This is only her second game behind the plate. So I can’t blame her. It was her first time getting in a play like that and she probably got mixed up with the runner and she took a good shot there, too. But she’s a tough kid. She’ll be back out there.”
“I thought it should have been an out.”
But to get to the two-run cushion, Eastern capitalized on two second inning miscues by Central to notch the first run of the showdown.
Jill Maghini reached first base safely via an error and a perfect bunt by Nicole D’Aamto advanced the lead runner to second.
Then a grounder by Ali Rivoira was not fielded properly and from there, Girard helped her own cause with a single up an RBI middle to make it a 1-0 game in Eastern’s favor.
“Defensively, we threw the ball around a lot,” said Hayes. “I thought we looked sloppy but it [only] led to one unearned run. But still, we’re getting better defensively but offensively, we’re still struggling.”
Central looked poised to tie the thing up in the bottom of the third when Xia’ian Carrasco drilled a one-out single, advanced on a bunt by Sierra Reed while Jenna Ptak walked to get two runners on board with two outs.
But McLaughlin, from behind the plate, gunned Carrasco trying to steal third base, ending the inning, as Eastern led 1-0 through three completed frames.
“We’re struggling offensively so I wasn’t surprised that we didn’t score any runs today,” said Hayes. “We ran ourselves out of inning where we could have maybe possibly scored a run or did some damage.”
Girard then retired nine straight midway through the game as Central just couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“She was definitely locked in,” said Redman of Girard on the mound. “Having four freshmen with us and in the line-up, you never really know what to expect. There are definitely some nerves but I’ll tell you what, those kids are gamers. That came with an attitude like ‘we’re not messing around. We’re getting a win.’”
But going into the seventh, Central was still alive trailing by just two and hanging in against an outstanding pitcher.
However, Eastern struck for one last run to make it a three-run affair.
McLaughlin opened the final tilt with a single to right while a sacrifice by Taylor Keegan advanced the Eastern catcher to second base.
From there, McLaughlin came home off an RBI hit to left by Makenzie Jankowski as Eastern led 3-0 going into the final half-inning.
And after Holden, who pitched one heck of a game for the Rams, raced out an infield hit and quickly, the tying run was in the on-deck circle.
But a fielder’s choice and two punch-outs later, Eastern closed out the game, snaring a gritty 3-0 performance, its first win over the Rams since May of 2012.
“I knew this game was going to be close, even though our records are opposite,” said Hayes. “We’ve been tested. We’ve been playing some tough teams. We’ve held our own. I thought we’d be able to score a run today.”
“It just didn’t work out.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.