As the Louisiana state champs loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the second, a Lake Air fan shouted from the stands, “This won’t just be given to you. You have to take it.”
So far, the Southwest Regional tournament had been a breeze for Lake Air Little League as it crushed its first two opponents by a combined score of 32-0 and had allowed only three base runners total.
With momentum seeming to switch away from the Texas West champs for the first time, Aziyah Flores ran over to catch a fly ball in left field for the final out of the frame which led to Lake Air’s pitcher, Daniella Ramirez, pumping her fist in the circle before heading to the dugout.
It was that kind of fight, that determination, that led to Lake Air run-ruling Louisiana 12-2 Monday afternoon at the George W. Bush Little League Leadership Training Facility in Waco to advance to the Southwest Regional Championship game at noon on Tuesday.
“I’m proud of them,” Lake Air manager David Rodriguez said. “We started out, our pitching wasn’t quite there yet. I think what contributed to that was she didn’t get a whole lot of warm up before, so we even had her after the second inning warming up again. Sometimes you’ve got to find it. The other team, hats off to them. They were fighting along with us. They weren’t going to lay down. That’s what I told the girls.”
Lake Air started the game out similar to its first two contests. Defensively, Lake Air Air retired its opposition in order before stepping up to the plate and scoring some runs.
Lake Air took a 3-0 lead after the first frame. But then Louisiana started to threaten.
After leaving the bases loaded in the top of the second, Kira Manganello crushed a two-RBI double to deep left field which cut Lake Air’s lead to one.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s defense went to work to shut down the Texas West champs with a pair of double plays to end the second and third innings.
But Lake Air didn’t back down. Instead, after a one-two-three fourth inning, Lake Air’s bats caught fire.
Thanks to three hits, and three Louisiana errors, Lake Air scored five runs in the bottom of the fourth to take an 8-2 lead.
“Hitting is contagious,” Rodriguez said. “For the most part you can see how they took that and built off it. It’s awesome to see that. When they do that, they just keep going. I’m proud of them for doing what they’ve always done. That’s all I can ask.”
With the offense providing some extra cushion, Ramirez and the Lake Air defense kept Louisiana off the board in the top of the fifth before going to work once more at the plate.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Serena Guardiola crushed a ball to center field that scored three. After a single by Ramirez to keep things going, Yanijah Cruz hit a pop fly that the shortstop dropped. Meanwhile, Guardiola crossed home plate to score the winning run for Lake Air.
The win guaranteed Lake Air’s spot in the championship game without having to play another contest later in the afternoon against New Mexico.
“I think it’s definitely an advantage to have a day’s rest,” Rodriguez said. “It’s got to be an advantage. They’ve got to go and pitch again. You always think about your pitchers. ... We’re going to go back out in the morning and start hitting again and just see what we can do.”
With the loss, Louisiana played later in the afternoon on Monday and fell 2-0 to New Mexico. Lake Air will play New Mexico at noon Tuesday. The Texas West champs previously topped New Mexico 12-0 on Thursday. The winner of the championship game advances to the softball Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon Aug. 9-16.
Rodriguez’s message to his team in preparation for Tuesday afternoon’s game is simple. Don’t change anything.
“Let’s continue to play the way we play,” Rodriguez said. “What I mean by that is from the way we warm up to the way we practice, everything you see here is what we’ve been doing for four or five years. There’s nothing different. I like to put a little pressure, I like to stay on them and keep them focused and on edge so they don’t get comfortable.
“But other than that (I) encourage them. My message to them is let’s play to our standard. If someone can take that from us, hats off tp them. If they can’t, then we get the W. I’m proud.”