By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Bristol Eastern Paige McLaughlin is an athlete every coach wants for their team.
The three-sport warrior has a fearless approach to the game and while she’s not the biggest or most imposing athlete, she’s the one you want in pressure packed situations.
And she found herself in one during the Eastern and Bristol Central soft softball game on Monday, May 21 and with the score 1-0 in favor of the Lancers, it was McLaughlin’s hit that made it academic.
The Lancers defeated the Rams 3-0 from Central school to end the campaign at 14-4 and finish up as the CCC South Patriot division champions as McLaughlin’s two-run single provided a little insurance for the visitors.
It was a multiple layered attack as the Eastern defense, headlined by Erin Girard on the mound (five hits, nine K’s) and with the Rams’ offense struggling, the Lancers’ hitting came to the forefront.
Alyssa Hackling knocked in the game-winning RBI while McLaughlin cleaned up for two RBI.
“Per her usual. Ms. Consistency,” said Eastern coach Scott Redman of Paige. “She started off the year slightly slow and once she started hitting, there was no turning back. She’s definitely consistent, a contributor game in and game out. The big spot doesn’t deter her at all.”
“She doesn’t crumble in the big spot…she definitely thrives off that.”
Taylor Keegan and Girard each smacked out two hits while Lauren Aparo found her way on base several times.
Jenna Ptak and Peyton Greger (triple) each had multiple hit games for the Rams.
And Peyton Greger allowed 10 hits but just gave up the three runs in another tough losing effort.
Central played well defensively, making just one error in the field, and when Eastern had a chance to tack on additional runs, the home team snuffed out several possible rallies.
“That’s how it been the last couple of weeks,” said Central coach Monica Hayes of her defense. “We make a lot of plays. Peyton’s still developing but she’s doing a great job. I think we get a lot of strikeouts for where she is in her development and the defense has come a long way since the beginning of the season.”
“We been battling errors all year long, trying to put the game together without a bunch of errors and I thought today, we did much better.”
Keegan started the game off with a single to left but two consecutive groundouts and a K later, Central was up at-bat.
Ptak opened the bottom of the tilt with an infield hit and when Torreso was plunked by a pitch, two runners were on.
But Girard struck out both Greger’s as the game remained a 0-0 affair.
In the second, Girard helped her own cause with a base hit and Riley bunted pinch runner Kylie Wolfradt to second.
Aparo was then hit-by-a-pitch and when Hacking sent a ball to the gap to right, Wolfradt scored to make it a 1-0 game.
Girard then picked up strikeout three and four as the Lancers led 1-0 through two.
Peyton Greger was strong over her first three innings, holding Eastern to only one run and three hits.
And Ptak, with one out in the third, raced out a base hit and advanced to second on a Kayla Beaulieu groundout.
But one final pop-up ended the third with Eastern’s 1-0 edge the score of the outing.
Girard then went 2-of-2 in the game with a base hit to center to start the fourth stanza with no one out.
Aparo earned walk to put two on but great catches in the outfield by Mia Santilli in left and Sierra Reed in right kept it a one-run affair.
Payton Greger open the bottom of the fourth with a knock up the middle but even as pinch runner Brooke Soucy made it all the way to third, a Girard strikeout of Carrasco ended the inning.
The top of the fifth saw Corliss sneak out a hit off a shot to Torreso – who made a nice stop to keep it in the infield – but a fielder’s choice erased the lead runner.
A groundout by McLaughlin saw Central quickly back at the dish but a 1-2-3 inning by the Lancers kept the visitors in front, 1-0 through five.
In the sixth, a slick defensive tag by Beaulieu erased a possible base runner but back-to-back hits by Riley Giblin and Aparo got two on for BE.
A slick catch by Ptak in centerfield erased a possible Hackling hit and a groundout from Winter saw Central get out of the sixth inning jam., down by a single run.
“We hit some balls hard and [Central] played some really good defense,” said Redman. “We really kind of have to credit them on their defense. They played some really good defense. I mean Alyssa Hacking hit a ball frozen rope to left right at [the fielder]. And she hit another hard ball before that. But she hit two hard balls that were caught and what are you going to do?”
“Central played good defense all day, kept them in the game.”
Then with two outs in the sixth for Central, Peyton Morgan infused a little energy to the game.
She crunched a triple to the gap in right and just like that, Central was in business and a hit away from tying the thing up.
“I thought we had a lot of energy regardless that we made out after out after out,” said Hayes. “We had a lot of energy and I thought that was our biggest asset today.”
A 6-3 groundout by Morgan Greger ended the sixth and going onto the seventh, Eastern was about to that 1-0 lead count.
“I thought Erin, as the game when on, got strong and kind of stifled them a little bit,’ said Redman. “It was a big two-out triple but Peyton and then, buckling down and shutting down after that. I thought that was big. It kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit.”
Keegan led off the seventh with a single to right and when Corliss laid down a sacrifice bunt, it was mishandled and two runners were on with no one out.
Fitzsimons then singled on and the bases are juiced.
And McLaughlin made the Rams pay as her single to right plated two runners as Eastern’s lead moved to 3-0.
Girard was then hit-by-a-pitch to load the bases up again but while Central held the fort from there, that three run push loomed big into the bottom of the seventh frame.
But the Ram’ were retired in order in the bottom of the seventh as Eastern won the contest 3-0.
“There’s nothing negative to say,” said Hayes of the game. “[Eastern] earned it. We had a misplayed ball to kind of start that [sixth] inning. But I’m proud of the effort today, the focus and the energy. I really can’t complain about anything today besides Central losing the game.”
While the big hits helped the Lancers it was the defense that kept Central at bay in this contest.
“We played well,” said Redman. “Defensively, we definitely shored things up. They gave me a little heart attack there in left and at first a couple times on some throws that weren’t perfect but you know what, we did what we had to do. Lauren [Aparo] is a good first baseman, the infielders have a ton of confidence in her and that’s the reason why.”