By KEVIN ROBERTS
Softball is a staple of Southington sports, and the town got a chance to showcase itself last week with the United States Specialty Sports Association Northeast National Championships.
The USSSA added Panthorn Park to the venue rotation, along with East Hartford’s Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Club. Fields 1, 3, 5 and 7 at Panthorn Park were in use during the tournament, which featured teams from the 16U and 14U levels.
East Hartford hosted all three levels, which were 16U, 14U and 12U. If there wasn’t a game being played on one of Panthorn’s diamonds, there was pregame bunting, fielding and pitching going on, and that was true of fields not be using for games as well.
Panthorn Park is home to the Southington Girl’s Softball League, plus the SGSL Thunder travel softball program. It is also home to the Southington Lightning travel program.
The Southington Lightning had a team at the 16U and 14U levels. They were Southington Lightning 16U Black and Southington Lightning 14U Blue.
Southington Lightning 16U Black head coach Tim Rose was happy to see the tournament come to the town and Panthorn.
“We’re fortunate enough to have it in Southington at a place which is the best in the state,” Rose said before his team’s first game on July 24 at Panthorn’s Field 3.
Not only is there a lack of travel for the Lightning teams, but the tournament being at Panthorn preserves that “home feel”, Rose said. Rose said there was a different energy to his players before the tournament began because it was at home. The kids play hard and want to win as always, but there’s something about playing at home.
“Being here in Southington, there’s not a better place,” Rose said.
Panthorn Park welcomed teams from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio during pool play.
The Southington Lightning changed their affiliation from PONY to USSSA for the 2018 season in part because they wanted to help host the national tournament, according to David Rocca, USSSA Fast Pitch state director for Connecticut, Massachus-etts and Rhode Island.
“I very much wanted them under USSSA for two reasons,” Rocca wrote in an email last week. “They have an outstanding organization and do a spectacular job running tournaments, and Panthorn Park is one of the best parks in the state. It was a WIN-WIN for all.”
Nine states were represented by teams, Rocca said in a press release touting the event. In the same press release, the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau said the tournament was expected to generate over $2.1 million for the Greater Hartford area.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.