By BRIAN JENNINGS
The only thing that matters is making the championship game. Few teams can make that statement. The Yankees can say it, and so can the UConn Husky women. The Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Celtics historians can make an argument for their teams, too.
So can the Lady Knights.
With a semifinal victory over last year’s defending champion, the Southington High School girls softball team advanced to the Class LL championship game for the 22nd time in program history. The second closest program is Amity, with 13 appearances and just five championship titles.
It may look easy for the Knights, but it takes a lot of work to stay at the top of the sport. Few teams have done it as long or as often as the Knights. Still, it’s not easy.
Southington didn’t necessarily struggle throughout the regular season, but they had certain areas of the field to work on. Communication and the development of the small-ball game needed fine-tuning, and the Knights did just that.
Only two loses during the regular season to non-conference opponents, Westhill and Fitch, earned Southington the sixth-seed in the Class LL tournament.
“What really fueled us were the two losses we had,” said Lady Knight second baseman, Michelle Woodruff. “We had miscommunication those games, and we had to work on our energy too.”
Woodruff, along with other team captains Kara Zazzaro, Maighread Scafariello, and Katie Semmel called a midseason team meeting between just players after their two losses.
“We had each person talk and really just speak what they want to speak to make sure that we’re all on the same page,” said Woodruff. “Right after those, we learned from it and really worked on all the mistakes me made. We jelled together more too.”
After the players-only meeting, the team chemistry went through the roof. The Knights finished off their remaining seven regular season games by shutting out their opponents in each one.
Southington raced through the state tournament with a 14-2 rout of No. 27 New Canaan in the first round, a 9-3 victory over No. 11 Darien in the second round, and a 4-0 shutout against No. 14 EO Smith in the quarterfinals. Waiting for the Knights in the semifinals was cross-town rival, No. 2 Cheshire.
But a late, fifth-inning rally propelled the Knights into the final of the state tournament for the first time since 2015 with a 6-2 victory over No. 2 Cheshire. Zazzaro allowed a couple of Rams to come aboard in the bottom of the seventh inning. But she managed to regain her composure by striking out the next three batters, going on to throw a complete game with nine strikeouts, seven hits, and three walks.
“I was just trying to hit my spots and take it one pitch at a time,” said Zazzaro. “I knew that they were all really great hitters. I was trying to put it where it would be tough to hit.”
Southington fell short of making a sixth-straight appearance in the Class LL final after falling, 4-1, to Amity in last year’s state tournament. But ever since that loss, Zazzaro said that she had been pining for another opportunity to play in the final game of the high school softball season.
“Personally for me, at the end of the semifinals last year, I was automatically thinking about next year,” said Zazzaro. The whole team felt that we were going to get back to this spot this year, and we just let that carry us through the season.”
Southington’s season ended with a one run loss, 4-3, to No. 9 Trumbull in the championship game, but the returning players can’t wait for another crack at the title.
“The younger girls got a taste of what it feels like to make it to the state championship,” said Southington coach Davina Hernandez. “But I think that they’re going to be really hungry to want to get back to another one, especially those girls that have not won one yet. Next year should be a big year for us.”
The Knights are losing six seniors to graduation after this season, including Amanda Delorme, Kelly Graff, Delaney Picard, Scafariello, Semmel, and Woodruff.
But make no mistake about it. The Knights expect to be take another shot at it next spring.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/06/13/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-june-16-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.