By John Goralski
Denise Archacki-Ingriselli’s reprieve ran out when former Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza signaled to his smiling outfielder halfway through her rookie season. Southington’s starting shortstop was being helped from the varsity field by her teammates with a season-ending injury, and Southington’s hopes for their first championship banner seemed to go with her as Archacki raced across the field.
If she was nervous, nobody saw it on her face. Archacki’s smile seemed to grow as she stepped onto the infield dirt. Most of her classmates were still learning to play organized softball on the junior varsity field, but Archacki slipped into the hole at shortstop like a carefree dancer swooping across the stage.
How would the Knights handle the loss of their veteran infielder? Could they replace her .400 hitting or her glove in the field? Archacki seemed unfazed as speculation swirled through the stands. The Lady Knights never missed a step.
“I just wanted to play,” she said. Three decades later, her smile still hasn’t faded. “It was the first time that I ever played a real organized sport with teammates and coaches. It was a totally different thing from the slow pitch softball that I was playing before that. There was stealing. It was a quicker game. It was exciting, and I loved it.”
For Archacki, high school softball was just another game. It was no different than the pick-up games in the backyard with her brother and his friends. It was no different than the intramural girls games that passed for Southington’s youth sports in the late 1970s. There were no junior high school teams. There were no softball travel teams at Panthorn Park. High school sports were a trial by fire, and nobody enjoyed the heat as much as Archacki.
“She was just a catalyst from day one,” said Piazza. “She was just a great, instinctive base runner. She got on base, and she could steal. She slid well. She could go from first to third or score easily from second base because she could take good turns and had the speed to whip it.”
By the end of the season, Archacki had elbowed her way into the leadoff position and led the Lady Knights in seven offensive categories. She had the most hits on the team (33) and almost half of them were for extra bases. She led the Knights in homeruns (10), triples (5), and stolen bases (25). Southington rallied to its first state title, and Archacki led the charge.
“She was an offensive machine, and she made so many things happen for us,” said Piazza. “She came in as a sophomore and become a leadoff hitter right away, but it certainly wasn’t because she walked a lot. She swung at a lot of bad pitches. She didn’t take a lot of strikes, but boy when she hit the ball she always hit it hard. Even when she hit a ground ball to the infield, she made them make errors because they had to be in such a hurry to get her. She was so quick, and when she hit a ball into the gap…forget about it.”
Of course, her sophomore spring season was just the opening act. As a junior, Archacki elbowed her way into the starting lineup in all three seasons as an outside hitter for the volleyball team, a defensive specialist on the basketball team, and the leading hitter in softball’s successful title defense.
Archacki attacked every season like it was her one true love, but it was her spark plug approach at the plate that fans will remember the most. Archacki went .468 as a junior and eclipsed the .300 mark again as a senior. When Southington transitioned into a four-year program in the early 1990s, Archacki still held five career records for her offense. She was ranked in the top five in nine different categories.
“I didn’t worry about my stats or anything. If you look at our team, everybody had a job to do and did it. We had a great pitcher and a great catcher. It was a really close-knit group, and we all rooted for each other. Everybody wanted to do well and everybody played hard,” she said. “It was awesome. I went from not playing any sort of organized sports, and all of a sudden we were thrown into something like this. We were traveling around the state. We were playing at that Raybestos stadium in Stratford. We were playing at the field where professionals played, and it was a lot of fun.”
Her approach never wavered no matter what season it was. Archacki was known to coaches and teammates as a hard worker, a good teammate, and a leader on and off the field. She was most dominant in the spring, but Archacki brought a high level of competitiveness to every one of her teams.
“I remember her as a hard worker. She was quiet, but a really great teammate. Those are the things that come to mind right away,” said Southington Sports Hall of Fame member Val DePaolo, a teammate on both the volleyball and basketball teams. “She was a three-sport athlete, and she produced year after year. She did whatever needed to be done. She never complained about things, and she never had an attitude. She was a true team player.”
In fact, former Lady Knight volleyball coach Ed Malczyk credits Archacki as one of four girls to raise the bar for future volleyball teams. As one of the first Lady Knights to attend an off-season camp, Archacki was instrumental in building the program into a proven contender. Malczyk said that she was a central figure as the team transitioned into a top sport at the high school.
“If we did keep statistics back then, I think that she would have done really well with her kills,” he said. “She wasn’t that tall. She wasn’t an overwhelming hitter, but she was smart. She could get the ball in, and she didn’t make many mistakes. She could jump, and she was a good server and a good defender. She was probably one of our better all-around athletes on the team, and she was one of our better outside hitters.”
Archacki’s tenacity was key to Southington’s winter success, too. For two seasons, she anchored the Lady Knights with her swarming defense. Even when a fractured foot slowed her as a senior, Archacki managed to be Southington’s biggest threat defensively. She only played 10 games, but still managed to score 7.2 points per game with 34 rebounds, 25 assists, and a whopping 28 steals.
“She was a great defensive player because she was so quick, and she worked very, very hard,” said Piazza, an assistant basketball coach during Archacki’s senior season. “If Joe Daddio went to the man-to-man defense, it was her that he put on the best ball handler. She was the one that would get in her face and work really, really hard.”
For Archacki, that’s the way that she wants to be remembered. “Any sport that I played, I tried to do my best,” she said. “I tried to be a good teammate, and I just loved to play.”
It was no surprise that college scouts came calling for Southington’s three-sport star, and Archacki’s efforts earned her a softball scholarship at Quinnipiac College. Archacki only played one year for the Bobcats, but she was named to the Division II All-New England roster as a rookie.
That’s one more reason why the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee chose Archacki-Ingriselli as a member of the Class of 2014. It was an easy choice.
“She was a really good girl to coach. She was a real, true three sport athlete, and she had great skills in all of her sports,” said Malczyk. “She was a really good competitor. She was always so dedicated to whatever she was doing, and she was such a good athlete. She was one of those good, tough Southington kids with skills that could help all kinds of teams in different situations.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 12, she will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.
“When you think about all the great athletes that have come through this school, it’s a really great honor,” she said. “It’s great to be recognized for doing something that you just loved to do. What’s better than that?”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.