By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It’s been a little while since the Bristol Central baseball squad has been on the youthful side but 2018 will be another such time.
However, those youngsters are extremely talented and that group will have to collectively step up as one of the veterans on the squad will have to miss significant field time.
But if this team can show a little chemistry and help its outstanding pitching rotation with a little run support, a trip to the postseason should be in the cards.
Here’s how the season should look for the Bristol Central program:
Head Coach: Bunty Ray (12th year)
Overall Record: 172-69
Last season’s Ledger: 10-10 regular season, 11-11 overall, 6-4 CCC South (third place)
2017 Tournament: Ranked 25th in the Class L fray, the Rams turned away eighth ranked Platt Tech 16-1 before falling to No. 9 Guilford in second action, 7-1.
All Conference Performers from 2017: Noah Plantamuro and Jeremy Ganavage
Strengths: Numbers, pitching
Weakness: Youth, offense
Key Losses: Jeremy Ganavage (C), Eric Gaudreau (INF), Brock Clark (INF/P), Kevin White (INF/P), Mike Lemke (OF), Kenny Knox (OF/P), Josh Bodley
Players to watch: Noah Plantamuro (sr., SS); Jacob Santiago (so., C/DH); Jaylen Dias (jr., 1B/3B); Alec DiLoreto (jr., CF/P); Alex Balfour (sr., P/2B); Stephen Warkoski (sr., P); Peyton Clark (jr., P); Robert Bibisi (sr., 3B/P); Ryan Rodriguez (jr., 1B/DH); Nick Ruffino (so., Utility); Evan Bouchard (so., SS); Austin Brown (so., OF); Ryan Krompegal (so., OF); Kyle Lauretti (so., P); Howard Rebhun (jr., P); Sean Wininger (fr., P).
What to Expect from Central: Ray will have several young players in key spots this season, not just underclassmen who are role players.
But Ray admits that those young athletes are talented and some will have to man positions that usually belong to upperclassmen.
And that includes a temporary replacement at shortstop as senior Noah Plantamuro will not play in the squad’s first 10 games due to a bout with mono.
His loss will be keenly felt in terms of on-field leadership, his bat at the plate, and – of course – his defense.
When your two-time All Conference shortstop is out to start the season, Central is already behind the eight-ball.
“I can’t tell you how big a hole that is for me in terms of my coverage, just having a four-year starter, having to sit that much time,” said Ray of Plantamuro. “It’s going to give some other kids playing time but it’s not good for us in terms of having our best player sit for that amount of time.”
And that means sophomore Evan Bouchard has some huge shoes to fill at short stop but also an amazing opportunity over the first ten games of the campaign.
Alex Balfour is the squad’s top pitcher, senior Steve Warkowski will be the number two, and also man a corner infield spot, while Peyton Clark and Alec DiLoreto may also see time on the mound as well.
“That’s going to be one of our strengths,” said Ray of his pitching. “I think we’ll throw enough strikes. I think Alex Balfour really emerged last year. Steve Warkowski has some mound experience along with Peyton Clark and Alec DiLoreto.”
“I think we’re going to be able to pitch, put the ball in play. I just hope defensively we’ll be able to make the plays with such a young team.”
Balfour could also be switched to second base while DiLoreto is a talented junior who can play multiple positions for the squad whether its pitcher, centerfielder and will sit in the middle of the line-up.
“He’s one of my impact players,” said Ray of DiLoretto.
Another critical player is sophomore Jacob Santiago and he’ll be catching behind the plate.
According to Ray, Santiago is another athlete who ‘has high potential.”
Another sophomore, Nick Ruffino, could be plugged into the infield at second base or outfield, played a good preseason and is projected as a starter.
And junior Jaylen Dias can play first base, third, and could even pitch for the program.
“He’s one of my best hitters,” said Ray of Dias. “He’s expected to play either first or third base and we’re experimenting with him on the mound a little bit, hoping he’s going to be a big, impact player for us. He started every game as a sophomore at second base.”
And you could be hearing about junior Howard Rebhun, an ambidextrous, multiple-positional player, throughout the season.
“He’s a utility guy for me that could see time on the mound or at any infield position,” said Ray.
Senior Robert Bibisi is in the mix at third base and has been working extremely hard in preseason play.
With DiLoreto in centerfield, Austin Brown and Ryan Krompegal – talented sophomores – will be in the corners of the outfield.
“In the preseason, those [sophomore] outfielders are scrappy, can get on base. They’re very young but my two corner guys are kids that are fast and we can work with. They’ve shown the most grit so far.”
Sophomore Alex Davis could also make his way into the outfield and fill in along the way.
But it still adds up to several youngsters getting starting assignments for the Rams.
“I’m going to start five sophomores,” said Ray though admitting he hasn’t started that many underclassmen in a long time. “The last time I started that many [sophomores] was in 2011. And that was when [Matt] Blandino was a sophomore but he had mono half the year and Tyler Cyr was the only senior. Every other kid was an underclassman.”
That’s what this team reminds me of.”
It will be a matter of those youngsters acclimating themselves to the high school game speed and Ray wants that done very quickly because the “season is a sprint, not a marathon.”
And early on, don’t be surprised if Central starts off as a small ball team with Ray’s heart of the order – DiLoreto, Dias, Warkowski, and Santiago – getting critical RBIs and moving men around base.
“I have four bats in the line-up that have a little strength but without Plantamuro in there, it really puts us in a big hole, not just at shortstop, but also in my line-up.”
CCC South, Blue Division, Patriot Outlook: “I believe that Eastern and Plainville will compete for the division title although I think we’ll be competitive,” said Ray. “I don’t think we’ll be an easy out but those two [teams] might just have a little more in terms of experience than we have right now at this point.”
And that means a boatload of Central Connecticut Conference crossover games for the Rams that include the likes of Newington on the road, a home date with Berlin, and three straight away games that includes Enfield, Avon, and Platt.
“With this schedule, the kids are going to get battle-tested every day,” said Ray. “It’s going to be one of those situations where they’re really going to have to step up.”
“But I don’t think I’ve ever had this many young kids in this many key spots.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObservercom.