By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern softball squad entered the Class LL state tournament fray as the fourth rated squad but faced an epic challenge in the form of No. 29 Wilton on Tuesday, May 31.
And, at this point of the season, records can be quite deceiving – despite the seeding process.
The visiting team dropped five first inning runs on the Lancers and played top-notched defense from start to finish in seizing a 5-1 upset win from the softball field from King Street in Bristol.
It was only the third loss of the season for Eastern (18-3) but the defeat ended the postseason for the young outfit.
Wilton (9-12) was limited to only five total hits in the contest off Eastern chucker Erin Girard (18-2 overall, four K’s, one walk) but three huge first inning errors by Eastern led to three unearned runs and a 5-0 cushion through just a half-inning of work.
And then the Wilton defense was impressive, snuffing out several potential hits as freshman pitcher Kate Shouvlin (one run, five hits) helped to keep the ball in the infield while the defense behind her made sharp and outstanding plays all game long.
“Well, you have to tip your cap to them defensively,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman of Wilton. “Their middle infielders played absolutely sensational. Their pitcher fielded the position really well, took away a lot of base hits from us.”
Offensively, Eastern’s Makenzie Jankowski ramped up two doubles and an RBI over three plate appearances while Jillian Maghini smashed out a second inning triple – a frame that could have netted the Lancers multiple runs but did not.
Alyssa Hackling and Mikayla Martin each tallied hits but the squad failed to generate a big-inning drive that could have significantly dented the lead to put pressure on the Warriors’ defense.
To open the top of the first, Wilton’s Hannah Belanger and Eliza Ward racked up back-to-back base hits before Sophia Strazza unleashed a ground ball that should have produced a desperately needed out.
However, the ball was thrown away – allowing the lead runner to cross the plate – as Wilton nabbed a quick 1-0 push with no outs on the board.
Maya Farrell followed up with a walk and quickly, the bases were juiced.
Juliana Musilli then dropped in a single – good for two RBI – as Wilton surged in front by three.
One batter later, Claire Wilson sent a fly-ball to right field that was mishandled and by the time Eastern reclaimed control of the ball, Farrell and Wilson had each tagged the plate and all those gaffes helped the Warriors to an imposing 5-0 hole just a half-inning into the affair.
From that point on, Girard was near flawless as she just faced three batters over minimum, allowing two singles while another runner reached via error.
“In the top of the first, you just can’t come out and play defense like that,” said Redman. “You’re in the tournament, you can’t give extra outs to a team like that. They capitalized and they did enough to win the game in the top of the first [inning].”
That 5-0 score held into the bottom of the second frame when the Lancers finally got something going but could not add anything to the scoreboard.
After Shouvlin struck out her first batter of the afternoon, Eastern took some whacks at the first year pitcher.
Maghini dropped in her three-base hit and when D’Amato drew a base-on-balls, there were runners on the corners for Hackling.
Hackling dumped in a single that easily should have scored Maghini but on a controversial interference call, D’Amato was called out on her way to second and the lead runner was brought back to third base.
Girard popped out to end the second frame as Wilton maintained its 5-0 push.
“We said it all year, you create your own fortune, you create your own luck,” said Redman. “I told them at the end of the game, we didn’t lose this game because of that call or any other call. We lost this game because we got outplayed, flat out. We didn’t do enough to win.”
With Wilton’s offense going silent, Eastern scored a run in the bottom of the third inning to chop the deficit to four.
Taylor Keegan started the inning with a walk and scored on Jankowski’s first double of the game as Eastern trailed 5-1 through three.
Shouvlin then took over, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters she faced, silencing the bats from Eastern.
“(Shouvlin) hit her spots [and] we didn’t make the adjustments we needed to,” said Redman. “We knew coming in, [assistant coach] Sarah [Arburr’s] scout was spot on. We knew what to expect, we prepared for it, and we just couldn’t execute today.”
Jankowski unleashed her second double of the game in the bottom of the fifth and Wilson reached base in the sixth for the Warriors off one final Eastern error but neither of those runners scored as the 5-1 contest went into the seventh and final inning with the home team needing to add some serious runs to the scoreboard.
Both squads were retired in order to close out the game as the Warriors came away with a four-run upset to close out Eastern’s season, 5-1.
“It’s hard to come back from that crooked number in the top of the first,” said Redman. “I think it deflated us a little bit and although we say the right things and we still hit the ball hard at times, [Wilton] took away some base hits and it’s kind of hard to get back into it.”
The game marked the final contest for Bristol Eastern seniors Jillian Maghini, Makenzie Jankowski, Nicole D’Amato, Lexie Mastroianni, and Mikayla Martin – helping to turn in an excellent 18-3 campaign.