BRISTOL – Bristol Central baseball missed the 2018 Class LL playoff fray last year – the first time the program failed to qualify for the postseason in the Bunty Ray era.
The Rams last missed state tournament play in 1998 (7-13) but the 2018 squad was right there, losing two games in extra innings to end the campaign and dropping eight contests by two runs or less.
Those winnable contests were lost due to errors and inexperience and the hope for the squad this time around is that lessons were learned over those losing efforts.
And with the likes of Austin Brown, Alex DiLoreto, Jake Santiago and Jaylen Dias, that group will help lead Bristol Central back to the postseason.
Here’s how the season should unfold for the Bristol Central program:
Head Coach: Bunty Ray (13th year)
Overall Record: 179-82
Last season’s Ledger: 7-13 regular season, 5-4 CCC South Division (second place CCC South Patriot)
2018 Tournament: Central fell to Avon and Platt in the final games of the season, missing the playoffs for the first time in the Bunty Ray era.
All Conference Performers from 2018: Austin Brown, Alec DiLoreto, and Steve Warkoski
Key Losses: Noah Plantamuro (SS); Alex Balfour (P/2B); Stephen Warkoski (P); Robert Bibisi (3B/P).
Players to watch: Jacob Santiago (jr., C); Jaylen Dias (sr., DH); Alec DiLoreto (sr., CF/P); Peyton Clark (sr., P); Ryan Rodriguez (sr., 1B); Nick Ruffino (jr., 2B); Evan Bouchard (jr., SS); Austin Brown (jr., OF); Kyle Lauretti (jr., P/1B); Sean Wininger (so., P); Spencer Lindroth (jr., IF); Adam Caron (so., 3B); Dillon Hudson (so., Utility); Jake Sassu (sr., OF), Joseph Maglio (jr., C); Howard Rebhun (sr., IF); Gavin Greger (fr, OF/P); Victor Rosa (fr, OF).
What to Expect from Central: There were plenty of injuries to go around the Bristol Central baseball squad last season but that meant most of the roster saw playing time on the field.
And that experience only helped that group of underclassmen.
Those players will continue to develop but the learning curve should be lessened a bit and hopefully, that uneven play won’t materialize like it did in early season encounters in 2018 such as the very tough loss at Farmington.
But this time around, Ray expects his troops to play – and excel – once the roster gets to gel and form a little chemistry.
“I just think right now, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Ray. “I think the mentality is headed in the right direction but I think we have to break some old habits. But at least they have the experience to fall back on this year. With last year, it was all brand new. I think this year it will be easier for them to make adjustments.”
Ray had plenty of inexperienced players on the field last season but that group was nearly led to the postseason off the efforts of junior Austin Brown (outfield) and senior Alec DiLoreto (pitcher).
DiLoreto can chuck the ball but it was his bat that led the charge most games last season.
He blasted out a .348 batting average that included 23 hits.
The senior is looking to duplicate that effort at the plate and keep improving from the mound.
With Stephen Warkoski graduated from the program, the top pitcher (2.24 ERA) has to be replaced and that’s where DiLoreto comes into play.
Brown led off the batting order for the Rams with a neat .344 average and brings defense to every game.
“Brown and DiLoreto were both all-conference [and] were both exceptional offensively for us,” said Ray. “I think DiLoreto will end up being one of our best all-around players. I think Austin, his competitiveness, will be put in a position where he should help us be competitive as well.”
Jake Santiago starts his junior season behind the plate as the catcher while senior Jaylen Dias is the squad’s DH.
The duo missed several games last season due to injuries but with their healthy return, that means Ray will have the heart of his order from the start.
“Santiago is kind of the X-factor for us with Dias and DiLoreto,” said Ray. “Those three in the middle of the line-up have got to produce for us offensively for us to have a chance to score runs. I like our table setters this year. I think there are some guys that are going to scrap, get on base.”
“But ultimately, those [three] are the guys that are going to have to produce. Anything else I can get from anyone else is going to be great.”
Ray is going have to shore up his pitching rotation but he certainly has a few hidden gems that could turn into major finds if everything falls into place.
Along with DiLoreto, senior Peyton Clark and junior Kyle Lauretti will help make up the rotation and Ray expects sophomore Sean Wininger will pitch a ton as well.
And it should be interesting to see what freshman Gavin Greger brings to the mound. The freshmen class is mighty talented at Central.
Around the horn will be juniors Nick Ruffino (second base), Evan Bouchard (shortstop) while Kyle Lauretti will slot in at first base.
Brown will be joined by Greger and fellow freshman Victor Rosa in the outfield.
Also vying for spots in the lineup will be junior Spencer Lindroth (infield), sophomore Adam Caron (third base), sophomore Dillon Hudson (utility), senior Jake Sassu (outfield), junior Joseph Maglio (catcher), and senior Howard Rebhun (infield).
The key for Central will be scoring runs early and often, then letting the pitching take over. That formula with help the Rams avoid all those one-two runs losses from last season.
If Central can show any kind of consistency on offense, the Rams will be just fine.
“Eight one-run game [loses from last year], you start to look and scratch your head and say what do we need to do to get better?’ said Ray. “It was just a play here, a play there…it’s going to be up to them to make the plays this year. I was really concerned offensively last year. I think that hurt us more. I thought we could have alleviated a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves in pitching and defense if we were able to score some more runs. I think we need to be able to produce more runs.”
Ray notes that Central will be playing against squads in the CCC South that have college level talents and Central must elevate its game and meet each situation head-on.
“I’m excited for the challenge,” said Ray. “I feel like these guys are right there. I’m just really concerned about the way they attack the game. I don’t they understand the nuances yet of the game within the game. I think once they get that, I think they’re going to be pretty good.”
CCC South, Blue Division, Patriot Outlook: In the three-team race that is the CCC South, Patriot Division, Ray feels that Bristol Eastern’s pitching staff gives the squad an edge in the league while teams can’t sleep on Plainville.
“Eastern has the pitching staff that’s probably ahead of everybody else,” said Ray. “They have more experience with [Ethan] Ryan, Jagger [Duquette] and Trevor Mays is a capable arm. Plainville is always tough. They’re going to be competitive. It depends when you catch everybody and [if they’re employing] their ace [pitcher].”
And then on the other end of the CCC South, Berlin and Platt are going to be in the top echelons of the league this year.
“On the other side, I think Berlin and Platt are going to be very good,” said Ray. “I think they both could be ranked [in the top 10]. I mean the CCC South is going to be tough.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.