April 19, 2017
There were a lot of key ingredients that went into South Carolina softball’s record-breaking 1997 season, but for former outfielder Kim Pietro (1996-99), leadership was one of the most important.
“We had great upperclassmen leadership,” Pietro said. “I was surrounded by tremendous people and tremendous athletes. At the end of the day, we had tons of talent, but leadership came from our coaching staff with Coach (Joyce) Compton and (assistant coaches) Michelle Phalen and Holly Aprile. We had some exceptional players, who were just gamers. We had a relentless pursuit to win. It also came from within the team.”
Throughout this season, South Carolina is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Gamecocks softball team which won the inaugural SEC Regular Season and Tournament Championships to go along with a 63-5 record, a NCAA-record 38 game win streak, and a berth in the Women’s College World Series. While everyone on the team played a certain role to help the team succeed on the field, there were off the field roles that may have been equally important.
“Everyone was very authentic,” Pietro said. “I think everyone cared about each other. (Catcher) Carrie Lyons was always good for entertainment. Our coaching staff had different personalities. Joyce was always serious and very matter of fact. Michelle Phalen was a character who made jokes and had fun. Holly Aprile was really intense. I wasn’t necessarily the player that everyone wanted on their team, but I think I was the player everybody needed on their team. I was pretty intense and pretty unforgiving. I valued winning and the relationships I had with my teammates. There was a lot of mutual respect. We really just performed as one.”
Currently working at Syracuse University in New York where she is an Assistant Dean for Advancement, the New Jersey native marveled at how the team, which was made up of players from eight different states, gelled together for something great.
“What stands out the most about that season was the shared goal of winning,” Pietro said. “Camaraderie was important to us, and winning was important to us. We had inspirational leadership. We had an inspirational environment, and we had a relentless goal to be the best. That was really what inspired all of us.”
That was just a group of girls who knew how to show up and play, and who knew how to win.Kim Pietro
After starting the season 2-2, the Gamecocks won an NCAA-record 38 straight games, with 27 of those games played on the road.
“I mean, we lost two in the first week and then two in the last weekend,” Pietro said. “That one game in the middle was just mind-blowing because we had no business losing that game. We beat the NCAA record, and we just took a sigh of relief, and in that sigh of relief we lost the next game. Then we just turned around and kept winning.
“The win streak was just fun. We won a lot of games by just one or two runs. That was just a group of girls who knew how to show up and play, and who knew how to win. We didn’t blow a lot of people out. We worked hard for those wins.”
The 1997 season was the first year that the Southeastern Conference sponsored softball as a championship sport, and taking home the regular season and tournament titles was a big lift for what was already a well-established program.
“It’s pretty special,” Pietro said. “I think that people realized the establishment of softball in the SEC gave us recognition that we didn’t have before playing as an independent team. It was much harder to be successful as an independent team in the regional structure. So that represented opportunity.”
Winning a conference tournament meant the Gamecocks would receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina hosted the NCAA Regional and defeated UNC Greensboro and then Kansas twice, all of which were shutouts, to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
“Winning the regional on our home field was quite exceptional,” Pietro said. “I don’t even remember who we beat, but I just remember the aftermath of running around the field and celebrating.”
After graduating in 1999, Pietro played professional softball for the Georgia Pride for a year, and then began her career in higher education. Pietro has done some volunteer coaching and is also committed to a healthy and athletic life style. She has been a triathlete for the last eight years, and has also spent time climbing mountains, including Mt. Rainier in Washington State as well as the Uhuru Peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Pietro still loves the game tries to get back to Columbia every year. She noted that one of the proudest moments was when she had a chance to speak at Coach Compton’s retirement party.
“My dad had passed away four days before that event was to take place, but my family told me that I had to go because he would want me to be there,” Pietro said. “I try to get back every year and support the staff. Competition has obviously gotten better, and technology has changed the game to some extent. The fundamentals haven’t changed though. I want to see them get back to the World Series.”