By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – In past seasons, the Bristol Central/Bristol Eastern softball games have been lopsided affairs but that was not the case on Tuesday, May 2.
In fact, it was pick ‘em as Eastern was clinging to a 3-2 edge through six-and-a-half innings.
But the gong went off for the Lancers in the bottom of the sixth as the team scored four big runs, putting the Rams away 7-2 from the softball field on King Street – Eastern’s home base.
Eastern’s pitcher did it all as sophomore sensation Erin Girard allowed just two runs, six hits and punched out 12 Central batters.
And then with the score tied at 2-2, her RBI base hit proved to be the go-ahead tally of the day – making it a 3-2 game as the Lancers never trailed again.
“She took it into her own hands today,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman of Girard. “She did it on both sides of the plate today.”
On the flip side, Central chucker Peyton Greger only allowed three runs through five innings until getting derailed in the sixth.
But she gave her team every chance in the showdown with some real pin-point throwing from the hill.
“She brings a lot of intensity to the mound,” said Central coach Monica Hayes of her pitcher. “And she brings gutsy performances day in and day out.”
To open the contest, Central put a runner on with two outs but Payton Greger sent a towering shot to centerfield that Zoe Lowe (3-for-3, RBI, two runs scored) expertly tracked down and caught for the third out of the inning.
But in the bottom of the first, Eastern went on the attack from the plate.
Taylor Keegan singled up the middle while Lowe turned a sacrifice bunt into a base hit.
From there, Jordan Fitzsimons grounded out and with a runner on third, a groundout by Paige McLaughlin scored Keegan as the Lancers led 1-0 after one frame.
The Rams attempted to respond in the second when Janessa Bartell slipped a one-out single to right as the visitors had something brewing.
But Kayleigh Dionne and Kayla St. Onge both struck out to end the stanza while Eastern’s Alyssa Hackling was hit-by-pitch to open the Eastern second.
But three straight putouts later and Central was back on offense, trailing by just a single run.
Jenna Plak raced out an infield bunt in the top of the third to get on base but Girard struck out Kayla Beaulieu for the second out.
However, Gwen Torreso had a different idea in mind in her time at the plate.
She slammed a shot to right, scoring Plak, and as she arrived to third base just under the tag, the RBI triple tied the engagement up at 1-1.
And when Greger just dropped a base hit into right, Torreso easily scored as the Rams were in front, 2-1.
“They made [Girard] throw a lot of pitches,” said Hayes of her offense. “We swung at strikes more than we have been. We’ve been talking and preaching and working on [it] at practice. I’m really proud of the at-bats that we put together.”
Payton Greger was cruising into the third inning until Lowe drew a full-count.
Lowe then unleashed a screamer into the gap in left, touching every base, as the home run tied the game up at 2-2.
The homer was followed by a walk to Fitzsimons, advancing to second on a grounder, and Girard’s slow roller up the middle to short center led to the third Eastern RBI as the home team retook the edge at 3-2 through three.
“We responded to Central,” said Redman. “Central got a lead and things have gotten really tense but the kids responded. We tacked on a couple more runs, we got the lead right back and later on, when the pressure mounted, we stepped up.”
Girard did all the work in the fourth defensively, generating a pop-up she caught herself while striking out two.
In the top of the fifth, Beaulieu and Torreso roped out back-to-back singles with two outs and runners were on second and third for Payton Greger.
Greger had a 2-1 count when Redman internationally walked the clean-up hitter – loading up the bases for Morgan Greger.
“We had a chance with the bases loaded in the fourth,” said Hayes.
But Morgan Greger grounded out to second as Eastern sidestepped a big hole, taking its one-run lead into the bottom of the fifth.
“We’ve done that three times in the last two days. It’s worked two-out-of-three” times said Redman of walking the bases loaded. “We wanted to stay away from the dangerous hitter as best we can and try to have a more favorable match-up for us. It’s more of a respect thing for Peyton.”
Alyssa Hackling sent a double to left field to get into scoring position with two outs but Lauren Aparo flied out to center as a very entertaining game between the Bristol schools headed into the sixth stanza with one run separating the rivals.
And to end Central’s time at the plate in the sixth, Girard’s strikeout of St. Onge represented her tenth K as Eastern kept its 3-2 lead intact.
That’s when the Lancers scooped up four runs to put the game away as Lyzah Corliss started the rally off with one of the biggest hits of the game – helping turn a one run lead into five run cushion.
“We had some key hits at key times,” said Redman. “A kid like Lyzah Corliss, she gets a big hit. Erin had more than one. A couple insurance runs here or there and all of a sudden, you have a five run lead and you’re a little more comfortable in the top of the seventh rather than a tense one run game.”
Peyton was throwing well into the sixth but Corliss unleashed a three-base hit to left with one out as the top of the Eastern order came to the plate.
And Keegan bounced a liner off Peyton Greger’s foot on the mound and the ball went into the outfield, plating Corliss, as the game became a 4-2 push.
Lowe added a single to left-center for her third hit of the afternoon and Fitzsimons’s RBI single past second base increased the Lancers edge to 5-2.
A groundout by McLaughlin advanced the runners into scoring position and Girard flipped a two-RBI double to left-center as Eastern led it 7-2.
That cushion would be too much for the Rams to overcome as the Lancers won its ninth game of the year by five runs.
“They just squared up a couple balls, ran the bases well,” said Hayes of Eastern. “We played a clean game. They earned those runs. You’ve got to give it to them. They got some big hits with runners on base and we didn’t.”
It was a huge win for the Lancers off a tough 5-3 loss the previous day against Middletown and rematch between those squads was just this past Monday.
“That’s exactly what we needed,” said Redman of the victory. “And then we get another chance against Middletown on Monday at our place where we haven’t lost yet. We’ll be geared up for that one.”