Paige Turner: Paige Kopcza proved that softball is more than pitching

“She was about as good of a softball player as we’ve ever had, and she went on to have a great career in college, too,” said the coach. “I’m sure that if she played basketball in high school, she would have been a great basketball player. I’m sure if she played volleyball, she would have been great at that, too. She was just a great athlete.”

She was so good, in fact, that Piazza was willing to bench a returning player from his state championship team just to make room in the lineup for Kopcza in her sophomore year.

“I knew that I had to find a place for this kid, but we had about 11 kids coming back with some sort of experience,” he said. “I put her at third base a little bit. I put her at shortstop and the outfield. I put her at second. I put her at first. It took me the whole preseason and maybe a week or so into the regular season, but I finally decided that the best move for the team was to put her at short. I moved the shortstop that we had into the outfield, and the rest—I guess you would say—is history.”

Kopcza never made her coach regret his decision. As a sophomore, she anchored the defense with her glove and helped pace the offense with a .357 batting average. The following year, she led the Knights with a .494 batting average and a .688 on-base percentage. Opposing coaches created special defensive shifts to account for Kopcza’s knack for threading singles straight up the middle. Still, they couldn’t keep Kopcza off the bases.

“I can remember playing one team that literally shifted their outfield to have a left-center fielder and a right-center fielder against me,” she said. “They didn’t really have a first baseman or a third baseman because they all shifted to the middle, but that’s where I hit it. I had a knack of hitting it right back at the pitcher.”

It wasn’t until her senior season that coaches were finally able to contain her…a little. Southington had finally graduated all of the players from her sophomore season, so teams were able to pitch around the Southington star. Still, Kopcza managed to finish her senior season with a .446 average.

“I think that year was tough for her because people were finally able to pitch around her a little more,” said Piazza. “In that 82 and 83 team, they had no choice. They had to pitch to her. In 84, there wasn’t as much around her. People could walk her, pitch around her, or not give her anything to hit.”

Still, college scouts were infatuated with the Southington star. In a sport that’s dominated by pitchers, Kopcza dominated headlines and focused the strategy of opposing coaches. Adelphi College offered her a full scholarship. The University of Rhode Island offered her the same opportunity, but Kopcza chose to attend the University of Massachusetts on a partial scholarship. It gave her a chance to fill the shoes of an all-American, and UMass offered her the educational challenges that she wanted.

Over the next four seasons, she batted .310 and led the team in five different categories as a senior. She still ranks fourth all-time in sacrifice flies (9) and wasn’t caught stealing a single time in her final two years.

“If my numbers are good, it’s just because I loved what I was doing,” she said. “I don’t like to toot my own horn. I did it just because I loved the game.”

The Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee chose Kopcza as the first non-pitcher to represent softball in the local hall of fame, but Piazza isn’t surprised by the choice. “Pitchers get the majority of the ink,” he said. “People recognize them more, but it’s those people behind them that make the plays.”

On Thursday, Nov. 14, Kopcza will be honored in an induction ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “There are tons of athletes that have gone through Southington and were tremendous in their sport, whether it was softball, basketball, football, baseball, gymnastics, or whatever. They probably deserve the award more than I do, but I’m really humbled and honored.”

Page 2 of 3 | Previous page | Next page