By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern baseball team hasn’t missed the postseason since 1998 and the outfit expects to be in the playoff mix once again this spring.
A few grizzled veterans will lead the group that includes seniors Josh Nohilly, Cory Fradette, and Mac Goulet.
The trio will lead a group of underclassmen into the wars of Central Connecticut Conference play as four conference and 16 CCC interdivisional games await the squad.
Here’s a look at the season for Bristol Eastern:
Head Coach: Mike Giovinazzo (44th year)
Overall Record: 579-320-3
Last season’s Ledger: 11-9 regular season, 5-5 CCC South Blue Division (fifth place), 0-1 in postseason play, 11-10 overall.
2017 Tournament: The Lancers, ranked 19th in Class L play, fell to No. 14 New Canaan by a 7-2 final.
All Conference Performers from 2017: Gary Gagnier and Zach Marquis
Strength: Returning core
Weakness/Question Mark: Pitching
Key Losses: Mike Massarelli (C/1B), Gary Gagnier (C/3B/P), Shawn Savior (2B/P), Zac Marquis (P/OF, all-conference), Jake Violette (CF/P), Anthony Lozier (OF), Ethan O’Day (P), Ethan Pearson (1B), Matt Thornton (INF).
Players to Watch: Josh Nohilly (sr., OF/P); Cory Fradette (sr., SS/P); Mac Goulet (sr., 3B); Alex DeNote (sr., P/OF); Dave Bernier (sr., C); Shane Caron (sr., P/OF); Matt D’Amato (so., 2B); James Dauphinee (jr., 1B/P); Jagger Duquette (jr., P); Noah Hickey (jr., OF/1B); Devan Jacques (so.); Trevor Mays (jr., P); John McPhee (sr., OF); Jon Pierce (sr., 1B/DH); Carson Sassu (jr., (C/OF/SS); Bryce Curtin (so.); Anthony Marrotti (so.).
What to expect from the Lancers: The game of scholastic baseball is always made simpler with a quality battery.
Eastern will employ senior catcher Dave Bernier but on the opposite side of the equation, every pitcher who won a game for the program in 2017 has graduated from the program.
That rotation will consist of seniors Josh Nohilly, Cory Fradette, Alex DeNote, and Shane Caron along with juniors James Dauphinee, Jagger Duquette, and Travis Mays among others.
“That’s definitely our biggest question mark,” said Giovinazzo of his pitching. “We definitely have some talent in that area and we definitely have some good arms but we are very, very inexperienced.”
The returning core of pitchers carried an 0-3 ledger and two saves last year, putting in over 26 innings of work on the mound.
That rotation will develop over the spring but in terms of experience at the plate and in the field, three players return from last season in the form of seniors Mac Goulet (third base), Fradette (shortstop), and Nohilly (outfield).
“They are the only returning regulars from last year,” said Giovinazzo.
Goulet batted just under .300 (.292 in 2017) and tacked up 19 hits, three doubles, nine RBI, five walks, and two stolen bases last season.
He certainly brought a defensive presence to the infield and will so again.
Fradette is also a force at shortstop and rambled up a batting average of .250 along with 16 hits, two doubles, 10 base-on-balls, nine runs scored and five RBI last year.
He led the team in stolen bases with seven.
Nohilly had 32 at-bats in 2017, earning five hits, a double, a couple sacrifices, nine walks and a .341 on-base percentage.
If Eastern is going to be successful this year, that’s the group Giovinazzo will be counting on.
“If our scrimmages are any indication, they’re going to be the leaders of our offense, there’s no question” said Giovinazzo of the trio. “They’ve all swung the bat really well in the scrimmages. But those are scrimmages and when the real scoreboard lights up, hopefully, they’ll be able to carry us.”
Others that will be counted on for support will be Matt D’Amato (second base), Dauphinee (first base), Hickey (first base), Devan Jacques, seniors John McPhee (outfield) and Jon Pierce (first base/DH) along with Carson Sassu (utility).
It’s a group Giovinazzo likes and expects to produce.
“We put a pretty good team on the field,” said Giovinazzo. “Our outfield is inexperienced but once again talented. Our pitching is talented and inexperienced but Fredette, Goulet, and Nohilly are a very good nucleus to begin with in terms of returning veteran players.”
“Granted, it’s not a lot but they’re solid on both sides of the ball on offense and defense.”
Giovinazzo has 20 players and while that’s not a problem at the varsity level, the numbers are down for both junior varsity and freshmen programs.
But those smaller numbers will also give opportunity for players like Bryce Curtin and Anthony Marrotti, sophomores eager to strut their stuff, chances at the varsity level.
Giovinazzo will also be calling some freshmen up, perhaps moving some games around which is a little different for the program than in past seasons, to get everything in.
CCC South, Patriot Division Outlook: What league? It’s just a three team race between Eastern, Bristol Central, and Plainville.
However, that means the Lancers had to play several games against some of the best competition the Central Connecticut Conference has to offer.
“I’m looking forward to the competition in that division but to be honest with you, that’s only four games,” said Giovinazzo. “I’ve got 16 brutal non-divisional games that are going to make up the majority of my scheduling and that’s what I really have to focus on.”
“The division title would be nice but with three teams, I mean, it’s also not much of a priority.”
PHOTOS by KELLY MAY DELL DEBBIO