Get ready to read a lot about the Southington Blue Knights.
As we continue our series highlighting the most memorable local sports teams of all time, the softball installment will feature Southington prominently, and for good reason. The Blue Knights have won 18 state titles, setting national records along the way, and represent one of the best athletic programs in the entire state.
Of course, there have been teams from other schools that have provided unforgettable moments, and we’ve compiled the best of the best here. There just wasn’t enough room to cover all of Southington’s state championship teams. We might need a book for that.
For many of the veteran players on the 1981 Southington softball team, the state championship teams of 1978 and 1979 were still fresh in their memories. Entering the Class LL state tournament as the third seed in their region, the Blue Knights picked up wins over Torrington, Windsor and top-seeded Naugatuck to reach the semifinals. A 4-3 win over Manchester put Southington in the championship game where it easily dispatched of Hamden 6-2.
This was the start of a Blue Knights dynasty that won three consecutive championships and got better every year. With the additions of Paige Kopcza and Julie Balduc, they qualified as the top team in its region for the state tournament and did not allow a run before the semifinals. They downed Norwalk 4-2 in the semifinals to set up a rematch from last postseason against Manchester in the final. A 6-1 win made Southington repeat champions.
The squad reached its highest heights in 1983, as they completed the three-peat with a perfect 23-0 season in which it only allowed two runs all year. Balduc capped off the championship run with a perfect game in the final against East Haven and posted her second All-State season after putting together a stat line that only tends to exist in video games. She allowed one run over 163 innings with 186 strikeouts and 16 walks. She only suffered one loss over her final two seasons and accumulated an ERA of 0.145 over that same time.
A year younger, Kopcza earned her first of two all-state selections and proved to be one of the team's toughest outs with a .494 batting average.
Southington’s softball dominance over the past 40 years began in 1978 when the program won its first championship in program history and its first of two straight.
None of the program’s early success would be possible without the valiant efforts of Irene Mach. After throwing out 13 baserunners as a catcher and batting .365 as a sophomore in 1977, she moved to the circle and became a dominant force both in pitching and hitting.
A career record of 39-9, her best pitching efforts came during the championship seasons when, as a junior, she went 20-1 in 138 innings with a 1.98 ERA and 137 strikeouts and a no-hitter. She also pitched five one-hitters and four two-hitters all while batting .458 and driving in 21 runs.
Mach capped off the phenomenal season with a 4-3 win over Norwalk in the Class LL state championship game to bring home the Blue Knights first of its 18 state titles.
As a senior in 1979, Mach continued her remarkable performances as she led the team with an 18-2 record from the circle and that included a 1.15 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 134 innings. She tossed three no-hitters in her final year which they capped off with a 9-5 win over Amity for their second consecutive state championship. She then accepted a scholarship to play at Texas A&M.
BRISTOL CENTRAL, 1985
After taking over the Bristol Central softball program in 1976, head coach Phil Pirog reached his first state championship game in 1982, which he lost 3-2 against Lyman Hall. He returned to the final game of the season three years later during his 10th season at the helm with a No. 1 seed next to his team’s name on the draw and brought home the only softball championship in program history.
Receiving a first-round bye as the top-seeded team in the west region, the Rams opened their tournament play with a 13-1 thrashing of Darien in the regional quarterfinals. Central faced more of a challenge in the state quarterfinals when it picked up a close 4-3 win over Platt, which they turned into a 6-0 blowout of Windsor in the semifinals.
Central’s greatest challenge came in the state championship game when it matched up with Windham, the top-seeded team from the east region. The Rams gave up two runs, but were able to contribute three runs of their own and were able to declare themselves state champions. Central went more than 15 years before its next state championship game appearance, but is yet to earn its next state title despite three chances since 2001.
The springs of 2013, 2014 and 2015 saw the Blue Knights win at least three straight state titles for the third time in program history. This three-peat may have been the most thrilling of them all.
Southington was the top seed in the 2013 Class LL state tournament, and through the first three rounds it looked like things might be easy. The first three contests were won by at least seven runs, but the road to a championship became much more difficult in the semifinals, when the Blue Knights snuck past No. 5 Stamford 3-2, setting up a 1-0 thriller over No. 6 Mercy in the state championship, a game that came down to the final pitch.
The 2014 championship was another absolute thriller, also a 1-0 win for Southington, though this one needed 15 innings to declare a winner. Prior to that unforgettable state title battle, the Blue Knights were the top seed again and rolled over Newtown before squeaking by Cheshire in the quarterfinals, then silenced No. 5 Daniel Hand 8-0 in the semifinals to set up a classic confrontation with No. 7 Amity. Southington’s Kendra Friedt and Amity’s Katie Koshes traded zeroes into the 15th, when Rachel Dube clinched a second straight title with a walk-off home run in one of the most dramatic games the Class LL state tournament has ever seen.
The three-peat was completed in 2015, when the Blue Knights were once again the top seed and met No. 2 Cheshire in the final. One again, it was in walk-off fashion, this time with senior Bella Russo scoring on an error with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to shock the Rams and win title No. 17.
The Blue Knights returned to glory last season, when they won yet another thrilling state championship game to claim the program’s unprecedented 18th state title.
Southington earned the No. 6 seed in the Class LL state tournament and allowed just four runs over the first three games of the tournament to beat Wilton, Manchester and Ridgefield to reach the semifinals, where the Blue Knights handled No. 2 Trumbull to get back to the state championship game. Facing off against No. 8 NFA, Southington built a 7-3 lead before NFA battled back in the final frame, scoring three runs before freshman pitcher Samantha Sullivan came on to record the final outs and seal another state title.
The thrilling win in 2019 was the perfect antidote to the heartbreaking loss in the 2017 title game, when late errors sealed a one-run loss to Trumbull. This season, the Blue Knights stepped up, led by a stacked roster that included tournament MVP Chrissy Marotto, who batted .493 on the season en route to an All-State selection. Abby Lamson was also All-State, and for good reason. The two-time All-State selection batted .600 and drove in a team-high 31 RBI.
You can make the argument that the Blue Knights were more than just the most dominant team in Connecticut during the 1980s. They very well may have been the most dominant softball program in the country.
After its three-peat in the early 80s, Southington missed the state final in 1984 before rattling off four straight state titles, making it an unprecedented nine state championships in an 11 year span (it would become 10 titles in 13 years after winning another in 1990. After edging top-seeded Cheshire in the 1985 state championship, the Blue Knights were the top seed in 1986 and allowed just one run through the final three games of the tournament, winning 1-0 over Holy Cross for the crown. Four All-State talents graduated following the 1986 season, but Southington didn’t skip a beat, going a perfect 20-0 in the regular season, stretching a winning streak dating back to 1985 to 52 games, a state record that lasted two decades. The streak continued with a 9-1 win over Danbury in the state final, and despite a much more pedestrian 13-6 record in 1988, the Blue Knights still marched to the state championship and beat Norwalk 7-5 to make it four titles in a row.
The Blue Knights “only” won one state title in the first decade of the new millennium, but the lone title was certainly a memorable one. After losing in back-to-back title games in 2002 and 2003, Southington left no doubt in 2004, rolling through a perfect 24-0 season and beating Bristol Central 2-0 in the title game, a shutout that was a familiar sight for this team, which allowed only two runs through the entire season, setting a national record that the 1983 squad set when it allowed only four total runs.
Natalie Volpe was dominant in the circle all year, and was again in the state championship game, allowing just three hits while striking out 10 to be named tournament MVP.
Volpe was the clear catalyst behind the team’s record-breaking season, going 21-0 with a microscopic ERA of 0.10. She also hit .435 at the plate in an all-around dominant season.
The Redcoats made history in 1986, winning the Class M state championship to become the first girls team in Berlin High School history to win a state title. In the first season of its three-peat (and four state titles in five years), Berlin rolled to a 23-1 record, a Northwest Conference championship and a 3-0 win over Plainville in the title game. The Redcoats were led by the dynamic bat of Pam Wallace, who set a national record by slugging 30 home runs and driving in an absurd 163 runs. The dominance continued in 1987 with a thrilling 6-5 win over Stonington in the championship game, and the three-peat was born following a 5-0 shutout of Haddam-Killingworth in the 1988 title game.
BRISTOL EASTERN, 2007
There was very little stopping the Lancers in 2007. Head coach Chris D’Amato’s squad was coming off of a loss in the Class L championship game the year before and was destined to finish its season on top, and it did.
Eastern posted an 18-2 regular season record, including a perfect 10-0 in the CCC South, led by five all-conference selections in Audrey Boutin, Melanie Bush, Maghan Grenier, Lyndsey Michaud and Sara Plourde. Their only two losses came against Southington in close games with scores of 8-6 and 1-0.
Qualifying as the best team in Class L, the Lancers seemed to breeze to its second state championship in program history as they only allowed one run over four games. Following a first-round bye, they dropped an 8-0 result on East Haven in the second round and a 3-0 win to beat Fermi in the quarterfinals.
A 9-1 win over North Haven in the semifinals put them in the state championship game against Waterford, where Eastern continued its lockdown defense and brought home a state championship with a 3-0 win.
A two-time All-State honoree, Boutin went on to play at UMass after posting a senior batting average of .554 with 36 runs scored, 41 hits, 27 RBIs, four doubles, three triples, seven home runs and a .973 slugging percentage in addition to a measly two strikeouts.
BRISTOL EASTERN, 1997
The Lancers first state championship in softball came the year after a 3-2 loss to Seymour in the 1996 Class L championship game. Eastern used a 15-3 regular season to claim the fourth seed in the 1997 tournament and four wins later, it reached the top of the summit.
Anchored by All-State pitcher Jennifer Hadley, the Lancers demolished Bristol Central 12-1 in their first tournament game. They backed that win up with a 5-2 victory over Bethel in the quarterfinal and then blanked East Lyme 3-0 in the semifinals. Pitted against second-seeded Watertown in the championship game, The Lancers scored the contest’s only run to leave Falcon Field with a state title and its first in softball.
Hadley graduated from Eastern the following year after Eastern made the jump to Class LL and reached the tournament quarterfinals before losing to eventual runner-up Southington. She left with a career ERA of 0.39 and 982 strikeouts and joined the pitching staff UMass.