By John Goralski
Coach Joe Piazza said he’ll never forget Jen Gombotz-Mikowski’s first at bat against varsity pitching. It came in the mid-1980s during a summer travel game against Wallingford. With only eight players, he scanned the sidelines for a volunteer.
“There was no way that we were going to forfeit that game,” said the former Lady Knight coach. “I said, ‘Come on, Jen. You’re playing’ We put her in the outfield, and she was only about five years old.”
In the bottom of the inning, the terrified toddler stepped to the plate and fouled off a pitch or two before striking out against a varsity pitcher. “I knew right then that she was going to be good,” said Piazza.
For fans, that was a fitting start to one of Southington’s most storied sports careers because, right from the start, she was ahead of her time. By the time she arrived at the high school, the Lady Knights had already established a long line of female pioneers, but nothing could have prepared them for what was going to come next.
“She’s probably one of the top five athletes to ever go through that high school, without a doubt—man or woman,” said Lady Knight softball coach John Bores. “How many people make all-state eight times? And she would have done it more but the freshmen weren’t at the high school yet. Every now and then you hear about someone who excels at two sports, but three sports? She was unbelievable.”
Right from the start, the young superstar was in a league of her own. As an elementary school player, she was driven from the local softball league for being too good. She threw so fast that parents worried about the safety of other players.
“I think it worked out to my advantage because I ended up playing baseball all the way up through the town leagues,” she said. “Until softball was offered at DePaolo, I played baseball with the boys.”
She still worked on her pitching in the basement, throwing to her father and her siblings with wild pitches ricocheting through the rafters.
“I broke many lights in that basement, but that was my parents,” she said. “They made sure that I could do whatever I wanted.”
She wasn’t limited to softball. In the winters, she worked her way up through the town basketball leagues to earn a place on the elite AAU rosters. She picked up volleyball in junior high school, and returned to the softball circle to