BRISTOL - The St. Paul softball team put together the best season in program history last season with its run to the Class S finals as the No. 9 seed that ended in a loss to Holy Cross.
This season, however, the Falcons need to replace key players that were lost to graduation and will also be missing their starting third baseman from a year ago.
Bristol Eastern now steps into the role as the team to beat in the area after its 18-2 season last year that ended with an early exit in the Class LL tournament.
The Lancers return a starting pitcher that put the entire state on notice last season and also have their shortstop returning.
While Bristol Eastern also lost important parts, it has the pieces needed to once again string together a strong season.
For the other two area teams it’ll be a year with less pressure, but both Terryville and Bristol Central are looking to progress throughout it.
Below is a closer look at the area softball teams.
Head coach: Scott Redman (sixth season)
Last year: 18-3
Key losses: Mikayla Martin, Makenzie Jankowski, Jillian Maghini, Nicole D’Amato, Lexie Mastroianni
Key returnees: Erin Girard (sophomore), Jordan Fitzsimons (senior), Paige McLaughlin (junior)
Outlook: It all starts with Girard.
She set the tone for the potential she has in her high school career after just one season on the mound for Bristol Eastern.
Girard pitched all but one of the Lancers’ games and put together an 18-2 record with a 0.79 ERA and 184 strikeouts, averaging over 10 strikeouts per seven innings.
Opponents hit .179 against her and she tossed a perfect game with 15 strikeouts in the performance.
Her pitching alone was deserving of her All-State recognition but hitting .407 with 23 RBI added to her resume.
Her teammate, Fitzsimons, is equally important with the departures of key seniors from last year.
She hit .429 with 24 RBI. Her ability to hit in pressure-filled situations was displayed when she hit eight RBI with two outs.
Fitzsimons also added five triples and had one home run.
Both her and Girard received All-Conference honors.
Outside of those two players, the Lancers will be looking for younger players to step up.
“We return a very strong core of talent,” Redman said. “However, we are still very young overall and will need to find replacements for 5 seniors from last season who the core of the team. Young players will need to mature and step up if we want to duplicate the success from last season.”
Head coach: Gary Hovhanessian (14th season)
Last year: 20-5 (16-4 in NVL)
Key losses: Alessandra Milardo, Brigid Johndrow, Brooke Perez
Key returnees: Lindsey O’Bright (senior), Katelynn Oullette (senior), Abby Poirot (junior), Jessica Persechino (junior), Katrina Roy (sophomore)
Outlook: Losing three senior captains that are playing at the collegiate level or had the ability to do so is without question a challenge for this year’s Falcons group to replicate last season.
Johndrow hit .585 with 38 hits, 33 runs scored and stole 26 bases last year. Milardo was a standout pitcher and went 10-4 with a 2.23 ERA and 108 strikeouts. While her pitching was stellar, she didn’t disappoint at the plate with a .515 batting average to go with a team-high 32 RBI. Perez hit .424 and had 20 RBI on 28 hits. Both Johndrow and Milardo were All-State players and Perez was All-Conference.
To add to the absence of those three, St. Paul will be without Janessa Gonzalez for the entire season due to the knee injury she suffered in basketball.
Gonzalez hit .466 and was also named to the All-Conference team as a freshman. She accumulated 21 RBI on 27 hits and scored 24 runs.
“Following the schools best season ever will be a tough act to follow,” Hovhanessian said. “Losing a very competitive senior class and [Janessa] Gonzalez to injury are big hurdles to leap. Our strength is pitching and catching. We are working hard each day to put our best defense out on the field.”
There’s still talent on the field, led by O’Bright. She hit close to .400 last season and will look to be the offensive spark throughout the season.
Oullette is entering her third year as the starting first baseman.
With the graduation of integral components to the historic Falcons team last year, this season is going to be a test.
“We hope to be a team with a .500 record or better,” Hovhanessian said. “We are a work in progress. We work and teach each day to make the team better.”
Head coach: Monica Hayes (fourth season)
Last year: 6-13
Key losses: Sarah Strilkauskas
Key returnees: Jenna Ptak (junior), Kayla Beaulieu (junior), Peyton Greger (sophomore)
Outlook: The Rams feature some young talent with Ptak leading the way for the team.
Ptak is coming off a strong sophomore season, during which she hit over .440 with four homers out of the leadoff spot. She also led Bristol Central in runs scored.
The youth of the group could show at points during the season but with most of their players returning, the Rams could improve slightly on the six wins from last season.
Head coach: Stephanie Fuller (eighth season)
Last year: 7-13
Key losses: Alycia Calabrese, Lexie Gonska
Key returnees: Amy Leronimo (senior), Maisie Festa (senior), Martina Trovato (senior), Maria Cesare (senior), Dominique Picard (senior), Jessica Dupont (senior), Olivia Tuohy (sophomore), Allie Michaud (sophomore)
Outlook: The Kangaroos fell just short of a state tournament berth last season, which makes that a realistic goal for the upcoming year with a roster loaded with seniors.
Leronimo will enter her senior season after hitting .364 last year with 14 RBI.
Terryville also has some young talent that could make a splash as soon as this season.
Tiffany Pires, Lacy Lyons, Emma Farrow, Jessie Valentine, Gianna Farrow and Alexis Fitzherbert make up a strong freshmen class.
“Having just missed the state tournament last year, our mission is to surpass eight wins and play at least one tournament game,” Fuller said. “We have experience on our side and a strong freshman class, so we are hoping to see some improvement in the always strong Berkshire League.”