STAMFORD — Gabby Laccona will never forget her collegiate softball debut. It came almost a year ago, during Ithaca College’s fall-ball season. Laccona was stunned when coach Deb Pallozzi announced the lineup. Laccona was playing shortstop and batting leadoff.
“I expected to sit the bench just like everyone else had to do, but I worked hard,” Laccona recalled with a broad smile. “I wanted to prove to the coach that maybe she could give me a shot on the field. You could see in my face how scared I was because I wasn’t expecting to be starting. Everyone was laughing at me because the face I was making was so priceless. My eyes just popped out of my head. It was so funny.”
Not quite as amusing was what happened when Laccona took the field, to the spot where she starred for four seasons at Westhill. Laccona committed five errors.
“It was probably the worst game I ever played and I was so embarrassed,” Laccona said. “Coach came up to me and asked me why I was playing so scared. But I was playing with a whole new team that had never seen me before and I was trying to earn a starting position. It was all in my head. I was really hard on myself. It was bad. I thought after that game she was going to yank me completely.”
Pallozzi started Laccona for the second game of the tripleheader, she settled down and an official freshman season that ultimately will become her lasting memory took off.
Despite a number of transitions that including moving to a position she had never played before, Laccona had a major role in Ithaca reaching the Division III World Series. Batting second and primarily stationed in rightfield, Laccona was named to the Liberty League All-Conference team and was selected as the Rookie of the Year after hitting .331, with one home run, 19 RBIs, 34 runs and 14 extra-base hits. Laccona’s 22 stolen bases led the league when her postseason numbers are taken into account. She started in all 46 games she played.
“It hadn’t hit me until I saw my stats at the end of the regular season and I said did I really do that,” Laccona said. “I was always in the moment. I was not thinking about it until I took a step back and said I am doing well.”
Even with the attention her catapult-like arm and hitting power attracted going back to her Stamford youth days, Laccona has always been more focused on wins than personal stats. So while her awards were nice, the 35-13 record and postseason run will have the greatest lasting value.
“It was so special. It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Laccona said. “When we made it to the World Series I was like this is crazy. There are only eight teams that go to the World Series out of how many Division III schools? It was like a dream. I never won a championship in high school. For me to win conference and regionals and super regionals… I feel it all kind of made up for what I missed in high school.”
This was a season of changes for Laccona, and she handled it seamlessly. In addition to a higher level of play, a week before the opener Laccona learned that she was being moved to rightfield.
“If she put me in left or center that would have been fine but she was putting me in rightfield, and that’s a whole different side of the field that I had never seen before,” Laccona said. “I didn’t know if I could play it but as long as I’m playing I don’t care where I am on the field. It was a hard adjustment; I’m used to balls tailing to my right and everything was tailing to my left. Judging the ball at first was horrible. It took me a long time but I ended up getting used to it.”
Laccona got a few appearances in the infield and at the end of the regular season moved to center for the rest of the year when a teammate was injured. Laccona finished with just five errors — the same number as that first fall game — and impressed in the regionals by throwing out two runners at the plate on long throws that reached home on a fly.
“In practice I can’t throw that far,” Laccona said. “I have to be in game mode. It has to be in a game situation. All of a sudden I get power out of nowhere.”
Laccona said her teammates made her feel immediately at ease. So did the presence of Allison Macari, a former star pitcher both at Westhill and Ithaca, who served as an assistant while finishing postgraduate work.
“Allison made me more comfortable. She understood me because she played for Tom and Coach Pallozzi,” said Laccona, referring to Westhill coach Tom Pia. “It was something special about coming from the same school and the same program. Knowing someone from home and she was looking out for me too. It was awesome having her there.”
Laccona is staying active this summer, the youngest member of the Brakettes. She is switching between shortstop and outfield for a team with a number of Division I players, including former St. Joseph rivals and current Manhattan teammates Nicole Williams and Lauren Pitney.
Ithaca went 2-2 in the Division III championships, with both losses coming to top-seeded Virginia Wesleyan. Eight starters are coming back. Laccona said there is talk of her moving back to the infield. She is unconcerned.
“I feel like there’s always room for improvement,” Laccona said. “I never settle for anything. I just always want to do better, keep getting the extra base. Put me wherever it helps the team. I just want to go back to the World Series.”