STAFF WRITER BRISTOL—Over the years, the Bristol Central baseball team has churned out numerous collegiate players.
The scholastic program is well prepared by head coach Bunty Ray—a 1998 Eastern Connecticut State University graduate and NCAA Division III World Series champion—and his players have gone on to several impressive baseball institutions, near and far.
Recently, two of Ray’s top players—Jake Santiago and Austin Brown—made decisions about the next step in their baseball journey. Santiago went to a traditional local favorite with the University of Hartford while Brown made an NCAA Division III choice of Nichols College.
The duo, who recently signed their National Letters of Intent to play collegiately, are looking forward to the 2020 scholastic campaign and the catcher (Santiago) and outfielder (Brown) are expecting big things as senior members of the program.
In terms of UHart, Santiago is going to great a great education in both the classroom and on the field.
“The last [Bristol Central] player that went there was Cory Parker and he had one hell of a career over there,” said Central baseball coach Bunty Ray. “It’s a great school. Jake is a good student athlete, he’s going to do really well later on [after college] and I’m proud of him for that fact. He’s going to play baseball, he’s going to compete but he’s also going to be able to get a degree from a great university.”
Santiago had a healthy 2019 and the junior played extremely well behind the plate. And his offensive numbers bore out an ultra-successful season. In 84 plate appearances, Santiago batted an excellent .421 with 32 hits—both team-leading totals—while smacking out 25 hits, including seven doubles. He also collected 13 RBI, scored 12 runs, walked six times and stole four bases.
Santiago carried a .464 on base percentage, slugged the ball at a .513 clip and tallied a .977 OPS. Usually third in the Central batting order, Santiago tallied a big double in a tough 4-3 loss to Maloney with his hit scoring Brown to tie the contest up at three in the bottom of the seventh frame.
And in a revenge contest against Farmington, Santiago rang up a 3-for-5 performance (two doubles, three RBI) in Central’s 14-9 win. He also rung up three hits against Conard while tallying a 3-for-4 showing in a tough setback against South Windsor.
Santiago added singles in both contests against the Lancers while in the qualifying round of the Class L tournament, the catcher was an efficient 3-for-3 with three runs scored in a 9-6 win over Maloney.
In first round play, Santiago smashed out a double in Central’s 16-0 blanking of Platt Tech and the catcher will be looking to duplicate that All-State effort over his senior season in the spring.
“Jake is very versatile,” said Ray. “When we talked to the Hartford coach, I told him the one thing Jake can do is hit at the NCAA Division I level. Whatever position he plays, he’s going to go there and he’s going to find a way. I’m happy about his progression.”
“He struggled and I think all good athletes have to struggle a little bit and then push themselves to become better and I think that’s what he’s able to do.”
Brown, a slick leadoff hitter, also had a great junior campaign and was the third leading hitter on the squad.
And it was a surprise to some that the three-sport athlete picked baseball as his collegiate sport of choice.
“At his signing, I laughed at him because when he came in, I think baseball was his third sport,” said Ray of Brown. “By the time he left, he kind of realized that it’s not about what sport you play, it’s how you compete. He saw a lot of success in baseball and I think he fell in love with the sport.”
Brown batted .361 which included 30 hits, three doubles and a triple. He also scored 19 runs, belted out 13 RBI, walked eight times and swiped two bases. Browne showed versatility in right field and certainly set the tone in the ever-improving outfield.
In the first game of the season in 2019, Central smashed Maloney for 22 runs as Brown contributed three hits and four runs. Brown scored two runs in the five-run victory over Farmington while the then junior went 2-of-3 in Central’s one run win over Eastern the first time around. He had two hits and scored two runs when the Rams defeated Avon, 12-3, from Muzzy Field—helping the squad get within one game of state tournament qualification.
Against Enfield, he smashed out the game-winning single to post Central to a 2-1 win while Brown had a huge state tournament game against Platt Tech in Class L postseason play with a 3-of-5 performance and an RBI.
His defense was solid all season long and expect some big things from the talented player in 2020.
“Baseball is the toughest [sport] mentally and he was able to go in, see that success and I think he wants to become a really good baseball player,” said Ray of Brown. “He’s a great competitor and he’s going to go on to good things.”