By John Goralski
When umpires signaled the final out, the Lady Knights exploded in screams and celebration. Coach John Bores sighed with relief, looked down at the ground, and emerged from the dugout with a wide smile as his players gathered in hugs and tears.
The longest title drought in program history had finally come to an end, and Bores watched his team celebrate Southington’s 15th softball state title and the coach’s second since taking over the team in 2003.
“It’s a sigh of relief,” said Bores. “I told myself that I had to slow the game down. It’s one pitch at a time. Breath. Take it easy. Everyone in the dugout was screaming, but I just tried to take it slow and concentrate on calling each pitch.”
The girls did their part. Southington manufactured a run in the second inning, and the defense did the rest. Senior pitcher Jordyn Moquin scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings to record her 15th shutout of the season. Lauren Zazzaro corralled 10 outs at third base. Sarah Carangelo caught up to a pair of sure hits in the outfield, and the Knights came away with a 1-0 victory.
It was the perfect way to erase memories of last year’s championship game collapse.
“After losing last year, this was redemption. This was our ultimate goal no matter what, and we definitely fought hard for it,” said Moquin. “Redemption was definitely the big thing. We definitely wanted to continue the Southington softball legacy. We haven’t won a state title since 2004. To win the 15th today is just amazing.”
In fact, the final week of the season saw a pair of perfectly executed victories by the Knights with no room for error. It started with a 3-2 victory in the semifinals against a pesky Stamford squad. Southington went ahead 2-0 in the first inning, but Stamford answered in the top of the sixth.
Once again, the Knights had to manufacture a run to secure the victory. Caitlin Downes opened the inning with a slap single down the third base line. She advanced to second on a passed ball and scored when Rachel Harvey (2-for-3, 2 RBI) drove a line drive into the umpire’s leg at second base.
While Stamford players scrambled to recover the ball on the infield dirt, Bores threw up the sign to hold his runner at third base, but Downes turned the corner and beat the throw to the plate. The run lifted the Knights to a 3-2 victory.
“I saw the ball kick away, and their first baseman didn’t see it,” said Bores. “At first I tried to stop her, but then I let her go at the last second. It was a good judgment call on her part.”
Defensively, the Knights did their part. Zazzaro led the way with five putouts. Sydney Ferrante made three tough stops at shortstop, and Moquin scattered six hits, four strikeouts, and a walk over seven innings to get the win that catapulted the Knights back into the championship game.
“Everybody thinks that winning is easy, but it isn’t as easy as it looks,” said Bores. “I told them that last year when we went to the all-state banquet. There were eight teams that were winners or runners-up, and not one team had gone to the finals the previous year. They told me, ‘Coach, don’t worry. We have your back.’ I thought they were full of it, but now we’re back.”
This time, the Knights weren’t going to squander their chance, and once again the defense set the stage. Mercy drew a walk to start the game. A bunt drew the infielders in for the second out of the inning, and the Tiger runner tried to sneak around to third base just to find Harvey waiting for the throw. While the Southington defense had shifted to stop the lead runner, the Lady Knight catcher had scrambled down the line to head off Mercy’s runner.
“Everybody keeps laughing at me when I say it, but we practice that every day—defensive stuff,” said Bores. “They know with a runner on first that our catcher better get her rear end down third base because a lot of people try to run.”
In the bottom of the second inning, Southington took the lead for good. With one out, Zazzaro was struck by a pitch. She advanced to second base when the next pitch dropped into the dirt. With two outs, freshman Natalie Wadolowski drove a hard single into left center that scored Zazzaro from second base. The Knights held on to the 1-0 lead for their first state title since 2004.
“It feels like a decade, which it is,” said Bores. “It feels like a lifetime. I’m breathing sighs of relief because we’ve had the monkey on our back since last year. The way we imploded last year was embarrassing. To have most of the kids back this year, they knew that they had to come out and prove something. And they did. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Both teams had chances. Mercy had runners on base in all but one inning. Southington had two chances to score that were spoiled by the Tiger defense. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Mercy third baseman Haley Lamotta reached over the fence to catch a foul ball with Knights on second and third. The following inning, a Southington runner was thrown out at the plate with a perfect relay from shortstop.
“I thought Mercy played great. I thought they gave us everything that we could handle,” said Bores. “It’s the old cliché. It’s a shame that one team had to lose, but they played really well, too. I thought we hit the ball really, really hard. We hit some shots, and they made some nice plays.”
When the dust settled, Southington celebrated their 1-0 victory. Bores celebrated his second title in five chances, and the Knights are back on top in the softball world. In other words, it was business as usual.
“These guys were on a mission from day one,” said Bores. “This was one of the nicest groups if not the nicest group that I’ve ever had. They all came out, accepted their jobs, accepted their roles, and played hard every single day—every at bat, every ground ball, every fly ball. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids.”
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