PORTLAND — Lake Air’s lack of World Series didn’t matter. The fact that they were playing another undefeated team didn’t matter.
In the end, here’s what really mattered: The World Series title is coming back to Waco.
Entering the night, it was the Rowan all-stars out of North Carolina who had been on the big stage before, making their third straight appearance in the Little League Softball World Series finale.
It was the Rowan all-stars who would get onto the scoreboard first Wednesday night.
But it was Lake Air that would quickly take charge of the game on their way to a 7-2 win in front of the ESPN cameras.
The Waco squad got things started when leadoff hitter Asharah Thibodeaux knocked a single through the infield. She didn’t need long to swipe second base, then teammate Serena Guardiola followed with a chopper through the left side. It was about the only thing that could slow down Thibodeaux, who took a couple chop steps to let the ball get past before flashing to full speed and sliding smoothly across home plate to bring her team even 1-1.
Lake Air was just getting started.
Guardiola came home on a wild pitch, and Yanijah Quintanilla drew a walk.
Three batters into the game, and North Carolina was going to the bullpen.
Makayla Ramos hit another chopper to the left side that pinch-runner Serenity Cade-Williams dodged before coming around to make it a 3-1 Waco lead.
The second inning brought more fireworks with Quintanilla launching a shot that had the crowd thinking home run for a moment before it dropped behind North Carolina’s center fielder for an RBI double.
Dominique Rodriguez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force another run across. Ramos connected on an RBI single, and another run scored when the throw to first base sailed high.
The game was barely a half-hour old, and Lake Air was in charge, 7-1.
The Southwest champs would carry that lead into the final at-bats of the game before taking on the top of North Carolina’s lineup in the sixth inning. The first two batters would find their way on base, and Brooke Kennerly would connect on a sacrifice fly to push across a run.
The game ended on the next swing.
A grounder to shortstop, where Guardiola snapped it up with her glove and started a double play with a quick flick to second base.
The arms went into the air, teammates embraced, parents serenaded from the bleachers and catcher Ulissa Rivas waved the Texas flag.
Lake Air was the World Series champ — the second straight year that a Texas team left with the trophy. It also brings the World Series flag back to the “254” — as the girls reminded ESPN announcer Holly Rowe following the game — for the first time since 2004, when Midway won the last of its 11 titles in a 13-year stretch.
Lake Air was helped by some expert defense along the way, retiring nine straight during one stretch.
North Carolina came out hitting with three straight singles to start the game. But Thibodeaux popped its balloon by reaching over her head to snag a line drive at third base, then quickly firing to second base for the double play.
Lake Air brought the first inning to a close by catching North Carolina’s Karsen Simpson attempting a steal, but not in the traditional way. The original throw to second missed the mark and ended up in the outfield. Simpson scrambled back to her feet and tried for third, but Ramos would have none of it with a laser throw that allowed Thibodeaux to lay down the tag in a collision at third base.
Ramos came up big again in the second inning, backing up near the fence to make a catch for the third out.
Lake Air retired the side in order in the fourth inning with a pair of nifty plays.
The first saw Guardiola call for the ball while sprinting across the infield dirt from her shortstop position. She looped in behind Thibodeaux at third base and made the catch in foul territory in front of Waco’s dugout.
Thibodeaux would get a chance to show off her glove moments later with a reflex catch on a line drive at her hip.