By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When your squad has the ability to win those close games, then the team is poised for a successful campaign.
And for the Bristol Eastern softball squad, getting those tough wins has led the Lancers to a CCC South Division leading record to date.
Eastern pushed all the right buttons against Plainville on Thursday, May 15 and downed a very game Blue Devils’ squad by a 3-0 final in Bristol.
It was another close win for the Lancers as the team moved to 13-3 overall, 9-1 in CCC South action and have won 11 straight games.
During that stretch, Eastern has won six of those contests by three runs or less and against Plainville (5-10), it was more of the same.
It was a two-pronged attack that started with a flawless defensive attack and was combined with stellar pitching by Sarah Beliveau.
“Defensively, we were sharp,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman. “Sometimes, Sarah strikeouts a lot of girls and we get flat defensively but they were alert and they made plays.”
And then Beliveau was her typical self and kept the entire Plainville line-up guessing throughout the showdown.
In the end, Beliveau allowed just two hits, struck out 12, didn’t allow a free pass and faced the minimum number of batters until the final inning of play.
Overall, she didn’t allow a runner past first base and saw just one batter over the minimum.
“She threw well,” said Redman of Beliveau. “She located her fastball well, her hard stuff was there, and the things that weren’t working today, we were able to stay away from. She commanded the zone well.”
But Eastern struggled a bit from the plate until the final frame of play.
Plainville allowed just one run through nearly six innings of work and did just enough to remain in the thick of things until the very end.
In fact, three errors – plus some timely at-bats by Eastern’s bench – proved to be the trick for the home squad.
“We got beat on bloopers,” said Plainville coach Jen Gombotz. “They hit the ball in positions we did not defend because no one defends those. You defend the strong hit, the one that is going to create multiple base opportunities, but when a team puts together a series of base hit after base hit, they were effective when they had to be.”
“It was from (Eastern) subs so it was nice for them they were able to come in and have that impact.”
Take out the four Eastern hits with two outs in the sixth stanza, the only hit the Lancers had in the contest was a first inning single by Beliveau.
“Offensively, we couldn’t make adjustments,” said Redman. “They already had the excuses built in their heads and I don’t think they made adjustments. Credit to the Plainville pitcher (Kiya Broughton). She battled really hard. She executed location, she changed speeds, kept us off-balanced, and she did what she needed to do to get outs.”
Broughton showed poise throughout the game and zipped up two first inning strikeouts to set the tone early.
She did not allow a walk and found ways to pitch out of a couple tough spots in a tough luck loss.
“I think that Kiya did a very good job on the mound keeping Eastern off-balance,” said Gombotz of Broughton. “She forced them to pop up a lot with their big time hitters and I think that Kiya, as a freshman, has held her own out there.”
“She’s only going to get better…it’s nice that we have her for three more years.”
Alexis Ruscito opened the second inning with a single up the middle as the Blue Devils were looking to get into scoring position.
But she got caught stealing second and in Eastern’s half of the inning, the Lancers scored the go ahead run.
With one out, Nicole D’Amato reached base off an fielding error and quickly sprinted to second.
And then with two gone in the frame, Michaela Sassu slipped a shot to center that was misplayed and dropped as D’Amato scored to make it a 1-0 game.
“The one run that scored, I think that was another deceiving ball,” said Gombotz. “It looked like it was well in the outfield and it wound up being on the fridge. Even myself, I was the one who called for the center-fielder to take it and I think it slowed the second baseman down.”
“We learned from it.”
Of the Ruscito hit, Beliveau retired 14 straight into the seventh inning.
But thanks to the Plainville defense – and the exploits by Broughton – the contest remained 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
“I’m not disappointed in our defense,” said Gombotz. “I think we came up with some very good plays. Sarah at third was flawless and I think we got out of some tough situations, with bases loaded. Our defense gave us an opportunity. Those last three batters they brought up had some very well placed hits.”
That’s when Redman turned to his bench and found a winning combination that helped add two runs to the scoreboard.
“We talked before the game about how we have some very talented players on our bench,” said Redman. “It’s not easy coming in off the bench ice cold. Maybe you get a few swings on the side but you come in ice cold against a pitcher who was really baffling us all day. But they came in and delivered.”
Cheyenne Orsi came off the pine and slammed a shot to short that went for an out but Shelby Sanstrom slammed a single down the third base line to start the late inning rally.
Mikayla Martin followed up with a single to center and Sassu loaded the bases with a base hit to left.
“Orsi crushed the ball to shortstop,” said Redman. “Martin made an adjustment, hit the ball out there like we talked about, and Sandstrom ripped the ball down the line. Those were three sharp hits.”
Jenifer Tabacco added those insurance tallies with a two-RBI single as the hit of game scored both Anna Kelley and Martin to propel Eastern to a 3-0 push going into the final frame of action.
In the seventh, Sarah Ercoli started the tilt out with a single to center as the tying run was standing in the Plainville on-deck circle.
But Beliveau recorded the final three outs – two via strikeout – as Eastern moved to 9-1 in the CCC South with a tough 3-1 triumph over Plainville.
“I was very proud of how my kids responded,” said Gombotz. “Yesterday, we lost a heartbreaker with a walk-off, seventh inning home run, so for them to come back and pretty much have it 1-0 for a majority…(of) the game except for the last inning (was good).”
“I was very happy with the way we played.”