David Rodriguez stood just past first base on the infield dirt as girl after girl ran from home plate to first base.

The key to this drill is simple. It instills the importance of running through the base to get on safely instead of slowing down before touching the bag.

And as girl after girl ran through first base past the Lake Air manager, only shuffling their feet to slow to a stop beyond the base, the metaphor became all the more clear despite the dirt flying into the air.

Yes, Lake Air’s major softball all-stars have made history by advancing to this weekend’s Southwestern Regional Softball Championships in Waco. But there is no spirit of remaining content with making it this far. No, Lake Air isn’t slowing down. Instead, they’re remaining focused in the midst of celebration, working toward a victory on their home turf that would punch their ticket to the Little League Softball World Series.

“It’s kind of a lot of pressure on us because it’s our hometown, but we know that our home has our back,” Makayla Ramos said. “We want to make it all the way. It’d be a fun experience.”

Lake Air, the Texas West champion, is one of two teams representing Texas in the Southwestern Regional Championships. The Texas East representative comes from Columbus Little League in Columbus, Texas. Rounding out the rest of the bracket are state champs from Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Colorado.

Every team will participate in Wednesday’s opening ceremonies beginning at 6 p.m. downtown, which include a march across the Suspension Bridge.

Lake Air is slated to play its opening game of the tourney against New Mexico at 2 p.m. Thursday at the George W. Bush Complex off University Parks Drive.

“For me personally just being from Waco, going to college here, being right down the road from that and going to the school district here, it’s really special for me,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve never really left permanently.

“They take a lot of pride in being from Waco. Being able to get this far and doing what they’ve done, it’s special. All their friends, family and acquaintances are here so from what we know we’ll have a great turnout and a lot of support from people around the city of Waco. That makes it definitely special for all of us.”

Two seasons ago, many of the same Lake Air players won a state championship in the 8-10 division. But that’s as far as that age group progressed.

“My family is pretty excited,” Asharah Thibodeaux said. “Two years ago my family didn’t really come to our games because all of the tournaments were out of town.”

But reaching this point, where the girls are able to play to advance to the game’s biggest stage in front of their family and friends in their hometown, wasn’t easy. The fight these Lake Air girls showed to win the state title filled Rodriguez with even more confidence in their ability to add another banner to the collection.

“They can pretty much overcome any obstacle, even something as big as this,” Rodriguez said. “Going to the next level and playing four or five games, I believe they have what it takes to get there. They just have to play hard, play the way we normally play, and everything else should fall into place.”

And once again, the metaphor points right back to running through first base. Lake Air could have coasted after dropping a 1-0 decision to former World Series champion Greater Helotes at state. Instead, they charged through the bag with three straight wins that clinched the state title and a place in the Waco history books.

“We can never give up,” Ramos said. “We had to get those wins at state. We made it.”

Rodriguez attributes this sense of determination in each of his girls to their unique leadership abilities. They each understand that they’re contributing something unique to the group and know that their every move makes a huge difference.

“They’ve been playing together for many years,” Rodriguez said. “They’re close. Their families know each other. Most of them are from the same schools or at least the same school districts. I think just the sense of community amongst their circle is what does it for them.”

And that’s been the favorite part of this season’s journey for Serenity Cade-Williams.

“I love hanging out with my friends and advancing to higher levels,” Cade-Williams said. “I like playing with them and just having fun and enjoying the moment.”

While most kids in the Waco area are getting ready for school to start, this Lake Air team is still playing softball. And hopes to keep things going for a little while longer.

“I’m going into the seventh grade,” Thibodeaux said. “If we make it to the World Series, I’m going to brag to everybody at school.”

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