BRISTOL - As the winter season was starting to wind down and the spring season set to begin soon, the Bristol Eastern softball team was feeling confident and with good reason.
This was the Lancers’ year they believed. The season Bristol Eastern would reach the program’s first state championship game since 2010 and win the title for the first time since 2007. After a 15-5 regular season and a trip to the Class L quarterfinals in 2019, The Lancers believed they had the right mixture of veteran players - led by All-State pitcher Erin Girard and all-conference infielder Taylor Keegan - and young talent that would have been tough for any opponent to contend with.
“We knew we could have made it really far this year,” senior Alyssa Hackling said. “We had our sights set on winning a title. We had prepared all offseason to do that. We put in a lot of work and to not be able to do that, especially our senior year, is upsetting for all of us.”
But over the course of the following two month beginning in April, Bristol Eastern never got the chance. There would be no opportunity to repeat as a division winner, no regular season games, no raucous home crowd cheering on the team, no more bus rides and no Senior Night. The coronavirus pandemic had taken those things away from this year’s group when the CIAC officially canceled its spring championships on April 23 and the rest of the season 12 days later.
It was far from the ideal way Bristol Eastern had envisioned as the final run for its four seniors - Lauren Aparo, Girard, Keegan and Hackling - with the program. So on Tuesday, the Lancers and Kara Aparo, Lauren’s mother, arranged to give them as proper of a sendoff as they could.
“I had no idea it was happening,” Lauren said. “I hate surprises. But it was super exciting to pull up and see my teammates and coaches one last time on the softball field. My mom organized it, so I was surprised she was able to keep a secret for that long. Ultimately, it was one less thing we had to miss and it meant a lot to have it.”
On the field where they had made so many memories and played with each other, Aparo, Girard, Keegan and Hackling were able reunite and received gifts, balloons and pictures of themselves to try and replicate a normal Senior Day. The quartet also posed for photos in the field and in front of the scoreboard. Throughout the afternoon they were back on the field, the four seniors shared plenty of laughs and stories about their time with the program.
“I’m definitely going to remember the team we had last year,” Keegan said. “It was just a hard-working team. No matter what happened during the school day, we were all there to pick each other back up and there to focus softball. I don’t even know how to describe it. It was just amazing. I hope I’m going to be able to take that hard work and determination to the next team I’m on.”
But perhaps what each of the four will take away from being part of the Bristol Eastern tradition the most isn’t necessarily the wins or the accolades, but the bonds they were able to establish with one another since they first laced up their cleats and tossed around a softball. All four had either played with or against one another since they were 7 years old. It’s also what made the lost season so difficult and what made Tuesday a special one under the circumstances.
“The thing I’ve noticed from my time at Eastern is we’re all team players,” Girard said. “We’re all there to pick each other up when we’re down. No one is out there by themselves. If we made a mistake, it was the whole team. We take responsibility for everything. Every win is a team win, every loss is a team loss. We just do everything together and we’re real close which is nice.”
Now, with their high school careers officially done and graduation less than a month away, the four are looking forward to beginning the next chapters of their careers and lives. It will also be the first time they’ll have to do so not as teammates.
Aparo will be playing softball at Division-III Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. She’ll be double majoring in elementary education and psychology.
“I went up there and I met the coach and soon-to-be teammates for a tour and not only were the girls amazing and friendly, the campus was amazing,” said Aparo, who plays first base. “With my merit scholarship, it was nice. I had some options, but when it came down to it, I wanted to play softball and it was a great fit.”
Girard will be taking her All-State talents just a little way up the road to Trinity College and majoring in biology.
“I was looking for a school that offered strong academics,” Girard said. “So when I found a small D-III school that was close to home and offered those kind of academics, that’s when I knew that’s where I wanted to go. I decided the last minute, but Trinity was so different [than what I had seen].”
Keegan, a shortstop and second baseman, will be playing next year at Western New England and majoring in health science.
“It was one of the first schools I had looked at or talked to and when I went up there for a visit, I thought and my parents thought the campus was beautiful,” Keegan said. “We loved it and it was really nice. I then went to a camp there and the coaches were great and so were the girls there.”
Hackling, who played third base for the Lancers, will be attending the University of Rhode Island and studying health sciences as well.
“It was nice to have everyone come together and have our teammates come and bring us presents,” Hackling said. “We weren’t able to have a Senior Night like we usually would, but we were happy to see each other and get back on the field.”
And while each is looking forward to what lays ahead, Aparo, Girard, Keegan and Hackling, will look back on Tuesday, not so much with a sense of what could have been, but an afternoon for them to enjoy being members of the Bristol Eastern softball team one more day.
“We have to give a big thank you to our coaches, coach [Scott] Redman and Mr. [John] Stavens, our athletic coordinator, and our administration,” Aparo said, “because without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did on or off the softball field.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com