By KEVIN ROBERTS
Heather Brousseau was a Southington softball player to be reckoned with. The former Lady Knight hit line drives but could also knock one out of the park. She could throw out the fastest runners from her place at shortstop, and she could take the extra base with her speed.
If opponents were drawn in by the smile on her face, she’d make you regret it. Brousseau had a killer instinct when she was on the diamond.
“Confident (and a little cocky too), athletic, tenacious, aggressive, fast, feared, fearless, gifted, emotional,” said teammate Nicole deFau, Southington Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Former softball coach Joe Piazza knew about Brousseau—now Brousseau-Poutouves—before she ever stepped a toe onto the Southington High School field. Assistant coach John Bores told Piazza that she was a great athlete.
“It was just a matter of finding a place to put her on a good team,” Piazza said. “We fit her in, we put her at short, we put her in the outfield, and she did very well in all positions.”
As a matter of fact, Brousseau-Poutouves was just a great all-around player for Southington. She made All-Central Connecticut Conference in 1997, 1998 and 1999, and she was all-state in 1998 and 1999. She was part of two Class LL state championship teams (1997, 1999) and one runner-up (1998). She led the Lady Knights with a scalding .548 batting average in 1999.
High school teams knew the former Lady Knight’s name…and her game.
“She was a great player, but she was never the star player,” Piazza said. “Everybody knew her, and everybody respected her, including other coaches and players.”
After high school, Brousseau-Poutouves played for the legendary Bill Edwards at Hofstra University, where she still can be found in the record books, and her team made three NCAA regionals in four years. She was a serious, all-out competitor on the softball diamond who has earned her place in the Southington Sports Hall of Fame, but that is all a far cry from how she started out in the sport.
“I was 10 years old, and I only played because some of my friends were playing,” she said. “It wasn’t even a serious thing at that point.”
She eventually took the game seriously and played with a reckless abandon, and she had plenty of support from her family, especially her mom Renee Clements.
“She never missed a game, and she loved being there,” said the former Southington standout. “She made everything possible. She drove me around, she made sure I had a new bat every year, she made sure I was never late to practice.”
At DePaolo Middle School, Brousseau-Poutouves played for fellow Class of 2018 Hall of Famer John Bores, or Mr. Bores as she called him. Then DePaolo went from hosting grades 7-9 to grades 6-8, and Bores advanced to the high school to coach the freshmen.
“I was devastated. I was so upset,” she said. “Mr. Bores said don’t worry, I’ll be here at the high school when you get here.”
Brousseau-Poutouves made it to high school, and Mr. Bores was there, along with Piazza, who was another big influence. She had a cannon for an arm at shortstop, though she had to work to rein it in. At the plate, she was a line-drive hitter, but too good a pitch from an opponent wound up going a long way.
“If she got a hold of a ball with kind of a slightly upward swing, it was gone,” Piazza said. “She could launch it.”
On the bases, Brousseau-Poutouves she ran like The Flash, and she was on her own, according to Piazza. “She didn’t need to read a coach and then come back and look for the base,” said her coach.
Brousseau-Poutouves earned the respect of her teammates and other players with the way she played the game.
“I believe it was Heather’s athleticism as well as her complete disregard for her own well-being that made her such a good softball player,” deFau said. “A lot of players are athletic, but most have some kind of a governor as well that makes them take their foot off the gas at times. Heather was all out all the time. She knew no other way to play.”
Brousseau-Poutouves would certainly agree with all of that, and gave an example.
“I used to get hit by pitches all the time,” she said. “I don’t think I ever really tried to get out of the way. I liked being on base, I liked running, I liked scoring.” She said that her competitive fire is what fueled her.
“I always wanted to win, I always liked a challenge,” she said.
Brousseau-Poutouves was always vocal with her teammates, and she was hard on herself.
“Always talking on the field (communicating), chatter in the dugout,” deFau said. “She was one of those players that you wanted to emulate.”
“She was emotional,” Piazza said. “When she did well there were smiles, and when she didn’t do well, there were tears. She always wanted to do well, do the best for her, do the best for the team, do the best for me.”
Brousseau-Poutouves was not only a standout player, but she was also a good friend.
“We played softball for as long as I can remember, but we were never just teammates,” said deFau. “We were always friends who happened to play softball together.”
One of the hardest moments of Brousseau-Poutouves’ career at Southington came during a moment of failure as a team. Lyman Hall beat Southington 1-0 in the 1998 Class LL state final, and there were friendships and all sorts of connections in that game across the diamond.
“These were my friends,” she said. “My best friend was on that [Lyman Hall] team.”
That would be catcher Kathleen Hoag, who went on to play for the University of Notre Dame. Brousseau-Poutouves was teammates with Kathleen and her twin sister, pitcher Maureen Hoag, on Tradition Softball, a summer team based in Wallingford and run by Southington assistant coach Ron Piazza.
“Those summers were some of the best times of my life,” the former Lady Knight said.
The championship game was a hard one to play, and it was also a close loss. Southington wanted to get back to the final game and win it in 1999, but it first had to deal with the near-death situation involving Piazza, whose brain aneurysms burst during the off-season.
“That was very hard,” the former Lady Knight said. “I was 17 years old, I was very close to him. It was bad. It was really bad, scary.”
Piazza returned in a limited capacity at the beginning of the 1999 season, and Brousseau-Poutouves started it with a bang. She led off the first game with a home run.
Southington had a tough regular season at times, but the Lady Knights picked it up in the postseason and beat Amity 6-0 for the Class LL state title. Baseball happened to win the Class LL crown on the same day, which was June 12, which made for an exciting time to be part of Southington High School.
“That was so awesome, it really, really was,” she said. “We were happy for the baseball team, and they were happy for us.”
Brousseau-Poutouves wasn’t just a softball player in high school.
“Different sports were fun,” she said. “I liked basketball. I liked softball better, but I loved to play basketball.”
She had to give up basketball as a senior because she had signed her National Letter of Intent to Hofstra and didn’t want to get hurt. She also played volleyball as a freshman, but only did so for that one year.
“It was fun, but I definitely wasn’t into it as I was with basketball and softball,” she said.
Brousseau-Poutouves had interest from local Division I softball programs including UConn, Hartford and Boston University, but she went with Hofstra and head coach Bill Edwards. Edwards, who retired in 2014 after 25 seasons with 928 career wins, remembers his former player fondly.
“Heather has left a lasting legacy at Hofstra…one that is admired, appreciated and respected by current Hofstra players,” Edwards said. “One of my favorite all-time student-athletes, I am excited for Heather and her family as she is inducted into the Southington Sports Hall of Fame.”
The talented Lady Knight made it easy for Hofstra to want her.
“Heather possessed all the standards, principles and values that we looked for in a Hofstra softball player,” Edwards said. “She was a wonderful young lady, a very talented athlete, a serious and gifted student. She played in a very competitive high school program and excelled in that environment. She always led by example, setting a high standard and work ethic that was never compromised. She was fearless and always played and competed with great passion.”
Edwards continued: “Heather was a focused, self-motivated and self-disciplined student-athlete. These were the qualities that attracted Hofstra to Heather.”
At Hofstra, Brousseau-Poutouves was a two-time Colonial Athletic Association All-Conference Team choice, along with one All Mid-Atlantic Region honor. She was a two-time College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District selection, along with one COSIDA Academic All-American honor.
“I always wanted to get the best grades,” she said, and she would get mad when she got a B.
She recalled when she had to miss a final exam one year because of Hofstra being in an NCAA regional. Her choice was take the B-plus she already had or take the final after the regional. She chose the grade, not wanting to have to take a final after a regional, but it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly.
“It was really hard to take that B-plus,” she said.
Brousseau-Poutouves had a .301 career batting average and 39 steals (seventh all-time at Hofstra). She’s still tied for the seventh-best total for single-season runs scored with 47. Hofstra went to three NCAA tournaments while she was there. The first came in 2000, when the Pride took a trip to Baton Rouge, La., for the South Regional, which was hosted by LSU. Hofstra went 1-2 with a win over 17th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette.
In 2001, the Pride were in the West Regional in Palo Alto, Calif., with Stanford as the host. Hofstra went 1-2 with a win over Brigham Young in that tournament. Brousseau went 2-for-3 in the win over BYU.
In 2003, the Pride traveled to Lincoln, Neb., where they were joined by the host Nebraska, along with Iowa and Creighton. Nebraska was ranked 11th in the country and Iowa was 23rd. Hofstra was unranked, but that didn’t bother the Pride, who stunned the host Cornhuskers 3-1 in their first game.
After a 3-0 loss to Iowa, Hofstra eliminated Creighton 1-0 in nine innings. The Pride were eliminated by Nebraska in the next game and finished 2-2 overall.
“We played some amazing teams,” she said of the tournament runs.
Brousseau-Poutouves lives with her husband Paul and their two children, Alexa, 9, and Tyler, 8. She works in corporate accounting at The Barnes Group in Bristol. Alexa is a dedicated gymnast while Tyler plays baseball.
“It’s fun to watch Heather as a mom now as she watches her kids get involved in sports,” deFau said. “She seems to enjoy it thoroughly and is so calm watching them.”
Brousseau-Poutouves channels her mother in the way that she follows her kids. She is there to support them and tell them that they did well. It is their lives to live, and she gives them encouragement. “I’m not at all competitive when it comes to them,” she said.
As for her playing days, Piazza offers an easy explanation as to why Brousseau-Poutouves is headed into the Hall of Fame.
“She had a career that was untouched…She was a well-rounded athlete, but in softball she was on four really, really good teams,” said Piazza, “and she was a cornerstone for all of those teams.”
Brousseau-Poutouves is excited for the induction.
“It’s a huge honor,” she said. “Southington has had and has so many great athletes. The kids are really excited.”
So is her mom. “I think telling her was more fun than anything,” Brousseau-Poutouves said.
So it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Brousseau-Poutouves as a member of the Class of 2018. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, she will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
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 staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.