By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – After an early exit in the 2017 Class LL state tournament, the Bristol Eastern softball squad is looking for a longer postseason jaunt.
And with a strong battery and an eager group of underclassmen, the Lancers have a chance to make that possibility a reality.
But how will the younger core of the squad respond to the ups and downs that leads up to the postseason?
With that question in mind, here’s a look at Bristol Eastern softball:
Head Coach: Scott “Redeye” Redman (5th year)
Overall Record: 60-46
Last season’s Ledger: 18-3 overall, 9-1 CCC South Blue (first place)
2017 Tournament: Fourth ranked Eastern fell to No. 5 Wilton 5-1 back on May 30.
All Conference Performers from 2017: Jordan Fitzsimons, Erin Girard, Mikayla Martin, and Makenzie Jankowski
Strength: Experienced battery
Weakness: Depth, youthful line-up
Key Losses: Mikayla Martin (3B/UTL); Nicole D’Amato (3B); Makenzie Jankowski (CF); Jillian Maghini (sr., LF); Lexie Mastroianni (sr., UTL),.
Players to Watch: Taylor Keegan (so., 2B); Paige McLaughlin (jr., C); Jordan Fitzsimons (sr., SS); Alyssa Hackling (so., 3B/C/OF); Zoe Lowe (fr., 3B); Erin Girard (so., P); Lauren Aparo (so., 1B); Riley Giblin (fr. RF); Jenna Winters (LF); Alicia Rappleyea (fr., Flex/CF).
Reserves: Lyzah Corliss (OF); Jasmine Perez (OF); Maura McGuire (jr., P), Brianna Norton (sr., OF)
What to expect from the Lancers: Sometimes when you lose, you really win.
That’s what summed up the Lancers 2016-17 softball campaign because even though Eastern lost to Wilton in the first round of the Class LL tournament, a group of youngsters grew up throughout the season – gaining invaluable experience off a successful 18-win season and all that winning will lead to bigger and better things this year.
And now in 2018, the Lancers will be led by a strong battery of pitcher Erin Girard and catcher Paige McLaughlin.
Those players will be two of the featured athletes in the league with Girard posting big numbers from the mound and McLaughlin calling for the talented sophomore.
Amazingly, both players dealt with injuries in the offseason but the duo were ready from the start of the campaign.
If those battery plays almost every game for the Lancers, opposing batters aren’t going to have a fun time at the plate this year.
“Erin and Paige a great battery returning,” said Redman. “[But] Erin is coming off elbow surgery and has had some health issues”
As a freshman, Girard was the surprise of the CCC South and the toughest pitcher in the league.
She threw a perfect game and opponents batted less than .180 against Girard.
Her numbers included an 18-2 record, 184 strikeouts, an amazing 0.79 ERA and that perfect game of 15 strikeouts.
And then offensively, she collected 23 RBI, batted .407, and blended both offense and defense with precision.
McLaughlin is a jack-of-all-trade player, who could play multiple positions with success, but the junior seems to have found a home behind the plate.
She understands how to call a game, is tough as nails and is a leader this young team will listen to.
Put the junior catcher and the sophomore tosser together and that 1-2 punch is the biggest obstacle teams will have to overcome this season.
At shortstop, senior Jordan Fitzsimons (.429 average, 24 RBI in 2017) is an all-conference performer, a slick defender, and will lead what should be three talented underclassmen around the horn.
That grouping should include sophomore Taylor Keegan at second base, sophomore Alyssa Hackling or exciting freshman Zoe Lowe at third with sophomore Lauren Aparo back at first.
That’s an overall young group but there’s some skill, more than a little experience, and an eagerness to learn and improve.
Also, look for freshman Riley Giblin (right field), sophomore Jenna Winters (left) and freshman Alecia Rappleyea (centerfield) to make strides in the outfield.
Again, that’s a lot of youth who will get tested early and often in CCC South play.
Offense is the key and if this group can put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard, then this team should wins some games, attempting to deplicate last season’s success.
“Overall, we are very young with only a handful of upperclassmen,” said Redman. “The key will be the youth adjusting to the higher level and elevating our game as competition rises. Scoring runs against elite pitching in a variety of ways will be key to making a run in the tournament.”
Redman will also call on reserves Brianna Norton (sr., OF), Lyzah Corliss (OF), Jasmine Perez (OF), and Maura McGuire (jr., P).
If Eastern can keep the youthful mistakes to a minimum, play Eastern brand defense, score its share of runs and enjoy the ride Girard and McLaughlin will take the team on, the squad will have a successful season.
CCC South, Patriot Division Outlook: Redman doesn’t have to look very far to see who he thinks the favorites are in the three-team league.
But Bristol Central is a year older and Plainville always seems to flex a you-never-really-know atmosphere, especially from their home turf.
However, the league favorites reside on King Street.
“I would say we are favorites in the CCC South Patriot division but Bristol Central has some young talent and cannot be taken lightly.”