By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTH WINDSOR – The Bristol Knights of the Connecticut Twilight League saw its season finish in the final week of postseason play, falling to eventual champ Chicago Sam’s Orioles by a 2-0 final – ending the campaign at 19-8-2 overall and 2-2 in the playoffs.
“We had a great season,” said Bristol coach Brian LaRochelle. “A lot of guys had great years individually.”
The squad was a unique mix of veteran talent with a little boost of youth and that formula helped the team take the Central division crown with a 17-6-2 regular season finish, a game-and-a-half better than second place finisher Elmer’s (15-7-2).
The Knights spouted the second best defense in the league – allowing only 2.6 runs-per-game – and brought that outstanding defense, and pitching, to the postseason.
Bristol was ranked No. 2 in the CTL Tournament, getting a bye into the later rounds, but fell in its opening game by a 3-2 final to league playoff runner-up, the Glastonbury Pirates.
The Knights rebounded to defeat both the Willimantic Ridges (3-1) and Elmer’s Silver Bullets (9-1) before getting shutout by the Orioles (2-0) to close out the postseason with a .500 ledger.
And while the Knights, like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, always judge the season on championships success, the program from Bristol did well as the league’s Central division winner.
“I want to give the typical coach’s cliché saying I’m disappointed with any season where we don’t win a championship but I feel really good about a lot of things this year,” said LaRochelle. “I feel good about the way the young guys at the core of the line-up stepped up. Guys that have been here for five, 10 years aren’t getting any younger. We’re all in our mid-to-late thirties now so the fact that Steve Clout, that Marco Ross, that Kyle Lentini stepped into the middle of the order was huge.”
Those three athletes infused the exact kind of energy the squad needed and it was only the team’s youthful inexperience on defense that was the downfall of the postseason.
In the playoffs, as an example, Bristol allowed just seven runs and most of that scoring was due to gaffes and miscues in the field.
For the season, Bristol lost those eight regular games by a total of 21 runs (2.6 runs-allowed-per-game in loses) and that means the Knights had a chance to snare a win in most every contest they played in.
And even when errors were committed, an excellent pitching rotation in the form of Chris McGrath, Ross, Nick DiTaranto, Nick Dzioba, and newcomer Mike Castellani certainly minimized any damage.
“We got a lot younger defensively,” said LaRochelle. “We picked up some good pitchers like [Mike] Castellani and DiTaranto really came into his own.”
Clout was a beast in right field and was an early league leader in batting average (.412 over his first 13 games with 14 hits and 11 RBI).
Lentini was a hitting star for Bristol, as was Ross, and the contribution from Tommy Stagis at shortstop could not have been ignored either.
Bristol’s Plainville connection of Tyler Favreau and Tyler Pina did a little of everything for the squad along with newcomer Neil Kelley.
Dan Nunes and Brian Murray also filled in nicely for the squad and veteran Mike Scanlon made some big late-season appearances for the Knights.
And then there were some long time Bristol hands that always seemed to produce for the Knights.
Eddie Dickman has been doing his catching thing for the Knights since the team’s inception while Rick Barrett brought his glove to the infield and continued his hitting success at the plate.
And where would the Knights be without old hand and pitching ace Earl Oakes?
He doesn’t go the distance anymore on the mound but he did such an amazing job keeping opposing batters frustrated over the early innings of games while letting the offense do the rest.
And don’t forget the versatile Ross was a huge threat whether pitching, manning second base (strangely) or smashing the ball all over the field for game-winning runs.
“Earl came back had an awesome year,” said LaRochelle. “Marco had another solid year.”
Finally, LaRochelle did a masterful job mixing and matching line-ups and manned whatever position in the field that was required himself.
There will be some changes in 2018 for the Knights but the team will be looking to defend its 2017 Central division crown and return to the CTL championship picture once again.
“I feel good about the season as a whole and building into next year,” said LaRochelle.