From ages 7 to 12, Katie Ciuffreda played baseball in the Lawrence Little League, and thanks to her great speed was the All-Star center fielder for three years. Upon arriving in middle school, she just assumed her baseball career would continue.

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Katie Ciuffreda holds the plastic zebra that is the LHS softball team’s mascot. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

But. . .

“They were like ‘No, you can’t do that,’” Ciuffreda recalled.

Thus, she chose the next best thing which, in retrospect, became the best thing.

“I started playing softball and it was like, ‘This is where I belong, this is my number one sport,’ the junior shortstop said. “I started with the middle school team and in the fall of my sophomore year I started playing travel softball.”

And she has never looked back. As a freshman Ciuffreda scuffled at the plate with a .224 average but was still in the lineup every day thanks to her defense at shortstop and a never-ending enthusiasm. She also showed some power as four of her 10 hits were doubles.

After last year’s COVID-19 shutdown, Ciuffreda has returned as the Cardinals leader. Through their 7-6 start she led the team in hitting (.348), hits (15), RBIs (10) and home runs (3) out of the leadoff spot. She also had three doubles, and procured the team mascot in the form of a little plastic zebra that sits in the dugout during games.

“I just saw it in the store and decided to buy it,” she said.

When asked why Ciuffreda does not bat third or fourth with her power, coach Dana Williams said “She gives us confidence. We talk about it all the time. I feel like she keeps getting up in big situations. No matter what happens to her, if the worst case is she strikes out, and she’ll go back to the dugout and tell everyone what she just saw and tell everyone what to do next or what she thinks. She’s leading off because she’s a leader.”

Ciuffreda has no problem with that.

“For my travel team I normally hit four,” she said. “But I kind of like the look of hitting leadoff. I like getting on early and moving around the bases. I look at it like Mookie Betz. He leads off for the Dodgers and he has so much power and so much speed. He just goes out and gets everything for himself and plays so aggressively, so I really like modeling my game after him. That’s kind of what I feel like when I’m out here.”

Ciuffreda has long been an athlete. She played travel soccer from second through eighth grade but once she fell in love with softball, she dropped travel soccer for softball.

Ciuffreda also enjoyed playing basketball and her plan was to play it in middle school, figuring she would only get a small part in the school play, which would allow her to play hoops. But her singing and acting ability ruined that idea as she got the lead of young Simba in the Lion King in seventh grade, and played Annie in “Annie” in eighth grade.

“I died my hair and everything for that one,” she said proudly.

But when Ciuffreda got to high school her priorities changed.

“I did the musical my freshman year and I thought ‘I should just be playing sports year-round,’” she said.

Thus, she became a member of the varsity basketball team as a sophomore, but still remains in the honors choir as an alto.

Ciuffreda’s greatest passion remains softball, which is easy to see when viewing a Cardinals game.

“She’s another coach on the field,” Williams said. “If you watch her either at-bat, in the dugout, around the softball field, she’s coaching when she’s playing and that makes the best player. She’s thinking the game.”

Aside from her offensive prowess, Ciuffreda has been solid at shortstop. As a freshman, she was bounced around from second, to third, to short but never complained. This year, she was happy when Williams told her she’s strictly a shortstop.

“She’s incredible there,” the coach said. “She makes some fun plays.”

Such as the one she made against Nottingham with runners on first and second and no outs. Ciuffreda went out to try and make an over-the-shoulder catch on a blooper and it went off her glove; but she quickly picked it up, turned and fired to third to get a force play.

“A lot of kids, if they’d drop the ball they would stop and sulk because they dropped it,” Williams said. “She was already on to the next play and made the out anyway.”

It’s that kind of non-stop focus and intensity that makes Ciuffreda special.

“She’s hard on herself,” Williams said. “We talk about that too. Sometimes she’s too hard on herself but at the same time it’s what makes her great.”

When it comes to her leadership and softball knowledge, Ciuffreda shares it with others beside her Cardinal teammates. This spring she is helping her dad coach in the Lawrence Little League.

“She’s a great kid,” Williams said. “She does great in the classroom, she’s friends with everybody. She’s not into cliques. She’s talking to the freshmen, helping to organize senior day. She’s just an all-around great kid.

“Now that she’s coaching little league, I’ll have to get out there and maybe learn a little bit. I’m always asking her questions.”

Not surprisingly, Ciuffreda usually has the answers.