And then there was one.
Lake Air’s major softball all-stars stand alone as the last remaining Little League team from Central Texas to keep its season alive. Lake Air claimed the Texas West state championship on Tuesday night with an 8-4 win over Greater Helotes. That means it will extend its season to next week’s Southwestern Regional Softball Championships in Waco, the final stage before the Little League Softball World Series.
Of course, it wasn’t easy by any stretch.
Lake Air won its opening game at state last weekend over Alice, 9-3, showing the kind of run-scoring pop they’d displayed all summer.
But then came a knock-down, drag-out pitcher’s duel with Greater Helotes, and Lake Air came up on the short end of a 1-0 decision.
“I just think the girls were nervous that game,” Lake Air manager David Rodriguez said. “There were a few little rules differences, and the level of play of course. We lost on an error in the last inning.”
That bumped the girls from Waco into the loser’s bracket, meaning they’d have to win three straight games to claim the Texas West title. And that’s precisely what they did.
But, again, it wasn’t easy. Lake Air eliminated Alice with a 12-0 win, which set up a rematch and a chance for retribution against Greater Helotes. In the first inning, the girls from Waco fell into a quick 5-0 hole.
“They were pretty deflated,” Rodriguez said. “I came into the dugout and said, ‘We’re not performing to our standard. If I’m OK, you should be OK.’ I was pretty tough on them, but I knew they could play better, had seen it plenty of times. And they responded.”
Did they ever. Lake Air exploded for a 15-run outburst in the bottom of the first on its way to a 21-5 pummeling. That victory set up the winner-take-all clincher, and Lake Air rode its momentum from the night before to an 8-4 victory.
Two years ago, many of these same Lake Air players bonded together on a similar successful quest that resulted in a state championship in the 8-10 division. But that’s as far as that age level progresses.
To be able to move on and make history – Rodriguez said that to his knowledge no Lake Air softball team has ever traveled this far – has been the culmination of many sweaty nights of fielding grounders and slapping liners.
“It’s an awesome feeling, and it’s exciting to bring this momentum back home to Waco,” Rodriguez said. “Not only to represent Lake Air, but we’ve gotten support and emails from all the local leagues, like La Vega, Midway, Southern, Lorena, China Spring. It’s good to come home and play in our backyard, and I know the fan support will be awesome.
“Regardless of what happens, we’re excited to make history.”
Lake Air will be one of two teams representing Texas at the Southwestern Regional Championships. The Texas East team comes from Columbus Little League in Columbus, Texas. The other four teams involved are the state champs from Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Colorado.
Lake Air will participate, along with the rest of the teams, in next Wednesday’s opening ceremonies, which include a march across the Suspension Bridge. Lake Air’s opening game at the tournament will be 2 p.m. Thursday against New Mexico, at the George W. Bush Complex off University Parks Drive.
Two of Central Texas’ other state tournament teams reached the championship games of their respective divisions before falling — the Midway 8-10 all-stars and the Central Texas senior league team. Lorena’s junior all-stars dropped out in the semifinal game.
Lake Air’s team is comprised of players Serena Guardiola, Kate Burton, Asharah Thibodeaux, Ulissa Rivas, Vanessa Ramirez, Daniella Ramirez, Dominique Rodriguez, Makayla Ramos, Leah Aguilar, Aziyah Flores, Serenity Cade-Williams, Ariel Munoz and Yanijah Cruz-Quintanilla. Assisting Rodriguez on the coaching staff are Rey Guardiola, Anthony Thibodeaux, Richard Ramos and Angelo Ramirez.