By JOHN GORALSKI
Southington was clinging to a 2-0 lead in the 1994 championship game when disaster struck. A mishandled ball at third base led to a throw in the dirt at first base, and Amity was back in the game. One run scored and the tying runner rounded third base.
“The runner on third delayed a half a second…maybe,” said former Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza. “It looked like she may be able to make it.”
The first baseman threw a perfect strike. Kim Lynch blocked the plate. When the cloud of dust and dirt finally settled, the umpire made the call.
At another point in the game, a wild pitch in the dirt nearly cost the Knights the game. Once again, Lynch saved the day.
“Kim went back to get it, and Jen (Gombotz) came in to cover the plate,” said Piazza. “Kim flipped it to her. Bam. Bang. We got her.”
When the game was on the line, and a big play was needed, it always seemed like Lynch was at the center of the action. She made it look easy, but it didn’t happen by accident.
“She was a great defensive catcher, and she really worked hard at the game,” said Piazza. “Every day in practice it was something different—working on getting out front on bunts, working on footwork for throwing people out stealing, working on blocking the plate, catching the ball with runners coming at you, and verbally making the calls in front of the plate.”
Lynch said that it was because she wanted to be successful and contribute to something bigger than herself, so she took the catching responsibilities to heart.
“It’s not just about being able to stop the ball and catch the ball,” she said. “You have to know the game. You have to know where everybody has to go and everybody has to be.”
Perhaps nobody in Southington’s rich softball history exemplified that commitment to the game like Lynch. Headlines trumpet pitchers. Sports writers clamor about the game winning hits, but coaches recognized defense.
Lynch raised the bar.
“A lot of time in high school, people don’t look at the defensive end of things as much as they should, but when you have a really good team you know how good their pitcher and catcher are. They are part of every play,” said her former coach. “She never let anything get into her head.”
Piazza ranks Lynch as one of the top catchers in almost every category. The two-time all-state catcher was one of the program’s best hitters, compiling a .408 batting average as a senior with 10 extra base hits and 19 runs batted in. She was one of the best base running catchers, scoring 26 runs as a senior even though most catchers use pinch runners. Defensively, she was as good as anybody.
“She was the type of catcher that made every pitcher look good,” said former teammate Jen Gombotz-DeLorenzo. “She could frame a ball better than anyone I have seen. Besides that, she always approached the game with a solid mindset. She was, simply put, a pitcher’s dream behind the plate.”
Lynch still shrugs off the compliments. She just wanted to be a good teammate, a good catcher, and a solid contributor whenever it was needed.
“Even though you were involved in every play, you weren’t really in the spotlight. That’s what I liked,” she said. “The pitcher has a circle around her, but that’s not the case with catcher.”
Still, Lynch was no stranger to the spotlight. She stuck out at every level. With two older brothers, she never shrank from a challenge in backyard pick-up games. She didn’t play softball until junior high school because she was too busy out-performing the boys in the local Little Leagues.
High school coaches knew about her long before her freshman year.
“She was savvy. She understood the game, and she was a great defensive catcher, even that early in her career,” said Piazza.
From her first day at practice, Lynch was the starting catcher. From her first varsity game, Lynch was a top contributor. It wasn’t long into her varsity career that Lynch began drawing attention from college scouts.
Schools like Florida Atlantic and UConn showed interest, but she settled on Western Connecticut State University, an up-and-coming program that needed a big-time player at a crucial turning point. The former Lady Knight was the “Lynch” pin they needed.
“Kim was one of the best catchers that I’ve ever coached, and I’ve been coaching for 20-plus years,” said former Colonial coach Alicia O’Brien. “She had a good work ethic, a good attitude, and was very competitive. She always wanted to improve and always wanted to be the best…yet she always wanted to be a very good teammate.”
Lynch hit the ground running. For four years, she paced the offense and anchored the defense as the fledgling program grew into a contender. The former Lady Knight cut through opponents like a hot knife through butter, and she still holds Western’s record for doubles (61) and total bases (330).
After 15 years, Lynch is still ranked in the program’s top 10 in five single-season categories and 10 career marks. The Colonials finally reached the College World Series the year after she graduated, but everyone still credits Lynch for paving the way.
She called the pitches behind the plate. Her fielding percentage was .978, and her pitchers blindly relied on Lynch’s judgment. The results were easy to see.
“There weren’t many people that got multiple hits against our pitchers, and I attribute that to Kim,” said O’Brien. “Even if there was a mistake in the first at bat, it would never happen again. I always put a lot of trust in Kim’s ability to know what the pitchers were doing. She had an ability to call a game and put our pitchers in a great position.”
She also led by example. O’Brien still remembers the shadows falling in Danbury when the coach made her final inspection of the softball field. Lynch was in one of her longest hitting droughts—one or two games—so O’Brien wasn’t surprised to find her all-star catcher practicing at sunset.
“She would just proceed to stay after practice for just hours, hitting balls. She’d want somebody in the front to toss it to her, throw to her, hit off the machine. She’d do anything she could do and really set a high bar,” said the coach. “Things aren’t going to be handed to you. You have to work really hard, but she just wasn’t going to accept anything less than that for herself and for her team.”
That’s why it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Lynch as a member of the Class of 2016. The Lady Knights have no shortage of championship pitchers, but Lynch is one of the first position players to earn her place in the spotlight.
“It is without a doubt that Kim Lynch deserves this hall of fame induction,” said Gombotz-DeLorenzo. “She helped lead our team to a state championship in 1997. She went on to be successful with softball at the college level, and she’s a true example of a great Lady Knight.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Lynch will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. The catcher said that she was humbled that people remembered her contributions on and off the field.
“I always liked winning, but I also liked to be there and help my teammates, too,” she said. “I’m not big on numbers. I didn’t really keep track of my stats that much. That wasn’t my biggest priority. I hope that people remember me as being competitive and trying to make the game of softball better.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
To comment on this story or to contact Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.