Blue Knights package four (for starters) for the next level

SOUTHINGTON — Three female soccer players and one female baseball player put pen to paper during Southington High School’s National Signing Day ceremony at the school on Wednesday.

The Lady Knights had two Division I signees in Jessica Carr, who goes to UConn, and Sofia Scalise, who committed to Holy Cross. Her teammate Avia Burns is inked with D-II Post University.

Also on the way to the post is pitcher CJ Pierce.

The three soccer players were on board for four of the most successful seasons in program history. The 2019 team advanced to the LL Class State Finals, the 2020 Knights were undefeated regional champions in the COVID-shortened year without a State Tournament, and the 2022 team advanced to the LL Class Quarterfinals.

“Each of the three players who signed this afternoon made a significant contribution to the program and we thank them and wish them the best of luck in pursuing their dreams of playing football at the collegiate level,” Southington coach Mike Linehan said during the ceremony on Wednesday.

Carr, a two-year captain, was a freshman starter on the 2019 class LL runners-up team. She was an elite player in conference and state as her career progressed.

“Jess is a ball winner and a tough competitor in midfield,” Linehan said. “She’s a player you build teams around. She has great ball control and can make that last pass that has you scratching your head and asking “how did she do that?” I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Great pass, great ball!”

“Coaches, umpires, reporters, other players and fans have commented on how well she can see the pitch and frankly make the game look so easy,” Linehan added. “She makes great decisions with the ball and other players like to play with her. She reads the game so well that she can make the right pass to the right player at the right time.”

Linehan added that Carr’s trademark is her ability to head the ball both offensively and defensively.

“She was so good in the air. Winning headers is both a skill and a passion and she’s been one of the best at it over the past four years,” Linehan said. “Jess has the maturity of a leader on and off the field and has led by example.”

The midfielder has recorded a total of 38 goals and 24 assists in his career. She was named All-CCC and All-Recod-Journal for all four seasons. Also named All-State and All-New England, she was an All-American nomination.

Carr has played for elite club FSA FC’s National League for the last four years and has been an ENCL All-Conference selection three times and has been named to the New England Soccer Journal Northeast’s Players to Watch list twice. Carr was also an ICC International Futures Team Selection four times and was an Olympic Training Center invitee.

The next stop is Storrs, and Carr made it official while flanked by her parents, Kimberly and Ernie.

“It feels great to finally have this set in stone,” Carr said. “My parents were great athletes and my siblings are in college and doing well. There was also a certain pressure for me to do well and I liked that.”

Billy Carr plays soccer at Springfield College and Allie Carr plays soccer at Pace University. Another Carr sibling – Thomas – is in the eighth grade.

Jess Carr plans to study Business Administration at UConn.

“It’s been the best four years of my life,” Carr said of her years in Southington. “Everything was unforgettable. I feel the connection to the girls. It’s been a great four years and I couldn’t have done it without my team.”

Carr said UConn has always been her first choice because she has always watched and followed UConn sports and wanted to stay close to home.

“I wanted to be a husky,” Carr said.

Scalise joins Holy Cross in the Patriot League in Worcester, Mass.

It was in Southington that Scalise made her collegiate debut as a sophomore and quickly impressed with her dynamic runs with the ball down left side of the field. It became her trademark.

“In addition to her ability to serve balls, she was also a great defender and someone who will be difficult to replace,” Linehan said. “The left side of the defensive line was an important part of our success. Players like Lauren Verrilli, 2020 RJ Athlete of the Year, dominated that position for several years and were difficult shoes to replace. But Sofia lived up to and exceeded all expectations, making a name for herself in both high school and the Premier League.”

Scalise served as team captain this fall and was the team’s RJ Scholar athlete. The defender ended her career with eight goals and seven assists.

Like Carr, Scalise was selected for the 2022 Senior Bowl, playing Premier Ball with Elite Clubs National League FSA FC.

Scalise, who started playing football at the age of 4, signed on Wednesday along with her family, including parents Janet and Jonathan.

“I loved my time in Southington,” Scalise said. “Every year it got better and it’s so much fun to be with the girls.”

Scalise will complete health studies at Holy Cross and plans to enter the pre-med or pre-law program.

On the field, Scalise relies on her speed and isn’t afraid to be the last defender to roll over opposing attackers.

“I’m a reliable player,” Scalise said. “I like to be someone you can rely on. I am also very happy to sign here today and have this experience with my teammates.”

The fast Burns will play D-II football at Post University, Waterbury. She was a varsity player for the Blue Knights for three years and also played with Oakwood Premier Club.

“A success story that many younger players can learn from, from a varsity career that began with limited playing time to a player who started in the quarterfinals in her last game as a senior,” Linehan noted. “Her playing time on the collegiate team increased each year, leading to her playing significant minutes in her senior year to make a serious contribution to the team’s success.”

Burns is versatile. According to Linehan, she can play most positions on the field and plays them well.

“If you needed her in midfield, as a striker or as a full-back, Avia was an option,” said the Southington coach. “Most importantly, she never, never complained. She made the best of every time and every situation on the field.

“These are the many reasons Avia was recruited by Post. She is the diamond in the rough.”

Burns, who also competes at the track in Southington, was joined on Wednesday by her parents Jason and Candace and brothers Tyree and Charlie.

“It means a lot,” Burns said. “It was a really long process. I wasn’t sure I would play in college, but after working the off-season I decided to do it.”

Burns will study biology at the post office.

“I started looking at different schools and was determined to leave home,” she added. “I was in a clinic at Post in the summer and I liked the trainer and the overall environment.”

As for Pierce, the right-hander has had a strong season in the bullpen during Southington’s march to the 2022 Class LL State Finals. He had 13 appearances, all in relief, and was 1-0 with a 2.47 ERA and two saves.

He was a strikeout machine and fanned out 33 in 17 innings. He gave up nine hits – all singles – and went 11th.

According to Southington baseball coach Stan Switala, Pierce has a low to mid 80’s fastball, good curveball and great work ethic.

“He was an outstanding guy who came out of the pen last year,” said Switala. “I put him in a lot of difficult situations last year and he got us out of them.”

Pierce will be No. 1 in the Southington rotation this spring, serving as team captain.

“He goes out there thinking he’s better than everyone else and that’s the key,” Svitala said. “He’s not afraid of thugs and wants to fight those thugs. He’s doing a great job. He will excel at the next level.”

Pierce is a swing and miss pitcher who challenges with his fastball running into the batter’s hands. He can also paint the corners.

“He’s an important reason why we went to the state championship game,” said Switala. “His work ethic is impeccable and he’s a bulldog on the hill.”

Pierce has been playing since he was 4 years old. His parents Molly and Chris were present along with his brother Max on Wednesday.

“I have a lot of junk pitches and I’m always trying to hit the hitter with my fastball,” Pierce said. “I like to work fast; I don’t like a lot of time between pitches.”

Pierce is playing with the All Access Black Knights this summer. He will study accounting at the post office.

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