BRISTOL – Is this the year, the Bristol Eastern softball program breaks into the elite of the Central Connecticut Conference?
The Lancers bring back several familiar faces to the fold that includes the likes of All-State pitcher Erin Girard and a boatload of talented players.
Girard has been a mainstay in the line-up for the past two scholastic seasons and the junior is looking for even bigger things in 2019.
And a host of younger players including Zoe Lowe are hoping to support the team in a major way.
With some big expectations in hand, here’s a look at the Bristol Eastern softball team for the 2019 campaign:
Head Coach: Scott “Redeye” Redman (6th year)
Overall Record: 75-51
Last season’s ledger: 15-5 overall, 6-2 CCC South Division (first place Patriot)
2018 Tournament: Went 1-1 in Class LL bracket. Eighth ranked Bristol Eastern fell to No. 9 South Windsor 4-0 in second round action on May 30.
All Conference Performers from 2018: Jordan Fitzsimons (two-times), Erin Girard (two-times), Mikayla Martin, and Makenzie Jankowski
Weakness: Overall depth
Key Losses: Jordan Fitzsimons (SS), Brianna Norton (OF).
Players to Watch: Taylor Keegan (jr., 2B); Lyzah Corliss (jr., LF); Paige McLaughlin (sr., C); Zoe Lowe (so., CF); Erin Girard (jr., P); Riley Giblin (so., RF); Lauren Aparo (jr., 1B); Alyssa Hackling (jr., 3B); Allison Tellier (fr, SS).
Reserves: Jasmine Perez (so., OF); Kylie Wolfradt (so., 2B); Kaylee Kurpaska (sr., OF).
What to expect from the Lancers: The Lancers’ softball program continued to take positive steps over the last few campaigns and the hope is the 2019 squad improves on its 15-win total from last season.
“We have some very challenging goals this season,” said Redman. “Returning eight starters from last year’s successful team, we expect to take a big step forward and be a top team in the CCC and Class L.”
And with junior Erin Girard on the mound and senior Paige McLaughlin backing her up behind the plate, that battery is as strong as could be.
Girard was hardly hit off of last year as opponents batted a paltry .202 off a stellar 1.28 ERA.
Her strikeout-to-walk ratio was over 10-to-1 as she walked just 15 batters while fanning 159 along the way.
Girard hardly gets wild and when she does, McLaughlin did an incredible job scooping up the leftovers as the duo allowed just 12 wild pitches over 20 games of action.
On the flip side, McLaughlin was a beast from the plate as her .449 averaged proved.
She tallied 31 hits, scored 16 runs, and dropped in a team-leading 21 RBI as the dual threat will continue to lead the Lancers this year.
“Erin is a two-time All-State pitcher and Paige is coming off an exceptional junior campaign where she earned All-Conference honors,” said Redman of his battery. “[McLaughlin] will have the challenge of managing two pitchers this year but I believe she’s excited for her expanded role. Erin and Paige, as well as [freshman] Alison [Tellier], will make for a great battery this year with high expectations.”
Tellier has become sort of a first-season wild card that will earn time on both the mound and at shortstop.
It’s a good problem to have: multiple, talented options at key positions.
“Tellier is a freshman stud,” said Redman. “She is a great pitcher but an extremely versatile player and will play somewhere on the field when not pitching. My guess would be shortstop but she could see time at third base and the outfield as well.”
And then there’s sophomore sensation Zoe Lowe in the outfield who was chasing down fly-balls for the Lancers as a freshman.
Lowe dropped in averages of .358 from the plate, a .414 on-base percentage and slugged the ball at a whopping .849.
In just 58 at-bats last season, she blasted out seven home runs, scored 13 runs, and drove in 13 RBI.
Expect her in the outfield once again while venturing into the infield (shortstop) from time to time.
“Lowe is an incredible athlete,” said Redman. “She will anchor our defense with time in centerfield and at shortstop. Her athleticism is second to none and always on display. At the plate, she is always one swing away from changing the game and she continues to be the most competitive kid I have ever coached so I am excited to see her work towards having a big year this season.”
Also contributing to the Lancers cause will be juniors Taylor Keegan (second base, .513 batting average in 2018), Lyzah Corliss (left field, .373, 19 hits, 12 runs), sophomore Riley Giblin (right field, .362, 21 hits, 15 runs), junior Lauren Aparo (1B, .327, 18 hits, 15 RBI), and junior Alyssa Hackling (third base, .306, 19 hits).
Support will also come via sophomores Jasmine Perez (outfield), Kylie Wolfradt (second base), and senior reserve Kaylee Kurpaska (outfielder).
The defense last season yielded a 96-percent fielding rate, keeping mistakes to a minimum and that group behind Girard has to continue that trend.
All the pieces are in place for a deep state tournament run but many of the top CCC squads will be circling its game against Eastern on their calendars.
That kind of competition will only help the Lancers in the long run.
CCC South, Patriot Division Outlook: Redman knows that Eastern is probably the team to beat in the CCC South Patriot Division but his squad can’t sleep on either half of the division.
“In the Patriot Division, we should be considered the favorites. However, Bristol Central is always tough and well coached,” said Redman. “In regards to the full South, Berlin, Maloney and Middletown all have had top level programs. [Dominique] Highsmith from Middletown will be one of the top players in the state. I would say there will be some really high level games being played in the South this year. I like our chances to be competitive in all games this year.”
Eastern won’t be ducking any competitors this season as the squad will challenge perennial softball powers Amity and Southington early on.
“You will tell early in the year where we stand when we face Amity [the defending LL State champs] and Southington in the first four games of the year,” said Redman. “It will be a great test for us and one that I am very excited about taking head on.”
In an amazing three-pack of games during mid-May, Eastern battles St. Paul Catholic (May 14), Plainville (May 17), and Bristol Central (May 20), all from the softball field on King Street – the home of Bristol Eastern high school.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.