Crushing the opposition; ‘87 softball charged to a state title and a 52-game win streak

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

Nobody knows what the Danbury girls where thinking when they stepped onto Falcon Field for the 1987 girls softball championship, but they couldn’t have been happy. Just a few months earlier Kris Mach had dashed the Hatters’ hopes for a girls basketball title with a last second basket, and there she was swinging her bat. Tracy Ciosek was on that hoops team, too, and there she was warming up as Southington’s ace.

Sports fans love stories about redemption. Movies have been made about comebacks and retribution. This story is not one of them.

Dwight Moore, a sports reporter for the Southington Observer in 1987, remarked, “The results turned out the same, with but one difference. There’d be no close game…no last second heroics…and things would be decided quickly, early, and decisively.”

This is a story about dominance, winning streaks, and state titles. This is a story about Southington softball in the middle of its 1980s heyday.

“We had a small group of kids on this team that played softball and basketball,” said former Lady Knight softball coach and an assistant coach Ron Piazza. “They were a part of five state championships in their six possible seasons. It was amazing.”

In retrospect, nobody should have been surprised. After all, the 1987 title was Southington’s third state championship in as many years and their eighth title in 11 seasons, but it wasn’t a sure thing when practice began in mid-March.

“We lost four seniors off the 1986 team, and all four of them were all-staters,” said Piazza. “Those four accounted for 140 runs, 129 hits, 120 RBI. They had nine of our 12 homeruns and 65 of our 71 stolen bases. We lost a lot…We knew that we were going to have to switch some people around, and we were lucky that we got some young kids that stepped up.”

Of course it helped to have one of the most successful pitchers in Southington history on the mound. Senior co-captain Tracy Ciosek was a shortstop-turned-pitching ace that was just as deadly with her glove as she was with a pitch. Behind her was an all-star lineup, including seasoned seniors like Melodie Johnson, Cheryl Danko, Cheryl Bradley, Chris Zimmer, and the one that really upset Danbury—Mach.

Still, Piazza had a lot of questions at the start. Those would be answered early. Right out of the gates, Southington batters took charge. Southington outscored 80-3 to race out to a quick 6-0 start. During that stretch, Ciosek bookended a perfect game with a pair of no-hitters. The Knight knocked off a Norwalk powerhouse to start the streak and dropped the No. 2 team in the state with an 11-1 victory over Bristol Central.

“There were an awful lot of questions going into that 87 season, but they all got answered,” said Piazza. “When we beat Norwalk, 9-0, in that first game, I knew we were okay. Norwalk was always a really good team back then. We were scoring runs. We had a good group. Sure, there were teams that gave us trouble along the way, and it was those teams that had pitchers that weren’t throwing hard.”

Southington never slowed and they picked off opponents like a marksman at the range. The team rallied for 12 shutouts. They outscored opponents, 220-15, and finished the regular season with a perfect 20-0 record.

The Knights had strong hitting throughout the lineup. Johnson led the attack with a .456 batting average, but Kristin Wilcox (.444), Zimmer (.430), Bradley (.405), and Dawn Lantiere (.410) each broke the .400 barrier. As a team, Southington batted .340 with a slugging percentage approaching .500. The girls combined for 191 hits and 60 were extra base hits.

“That 87 team stands out for me because of the way that they were able to regroup in the beginning of the year,” Piazza said. “Kids were called upon to step up. The kid that was the second base on the 86 team was moved to first base. Our shortstop shifted to second base and we brought in a sophomore, Dawn Lantiere, to play shortstop. We brought in a sophomore third baseman. They just gelled together and ran the table. They made a consistent run and never let down. They were a proud group of kids.”

As it turns out the regular season was just a warmup for the tournament because this may be one of the most dominant postseason teams in Southington history. They beat Cheshire, 8-0, in the second round. They surged past Holy Cross, 6-3, in the quarterfinals, and advanced to the championship game with a 24-1 rout over Windham that quieted even the staunchest of critics.

Colleen Steinnagel went 4-for-5 with a homerun and five RBI to pace Southington’s 16-hit attack, and Windham never knew what hit them.

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