A week ago, Asharah Thibodeaux said if Lake Air advanced to the World Series, she would have plenty of stories to brag about to her classmates when school starts. One of those stories has to be when she stepped to the plate in the bottom of the third inning and crushed her first career home run over the left-field fence. As soon as Thibodeaux saw the ball clear the fence, both of her hands shot up into the air as the two-run homer gave Lake Air a 2-1 lead, an advantage it never surrendered.
Behind Thibodeaux’s big day at the plate — 2-for-3 with a homer and a double with two runs scored — along with stellar pitching once again from Daniella Ramirez and solid defense to back her up, Lake Air topped New Mexico, 6-1, Tuesday afternoon at the George W. Bush Little League Leadership Training Facility in Waco.
“It’s good for Waco,” Thibodeaux said as a huge smile spread across her face. “It’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”
David Rodriguez couldn’t believe it either. His Lake Air squad had just become the first team from Waco to advance to the Little League Softball World Series. And the Texas West champs made history in their hometown, no less.
“Winning here is exciting,” the Lake Air manager said. “It’s finally starting to kick in. I was just worried about coaching, how we were going to handle this New Mexico team, who you can see, didn’t lay down. Everyone is here. I’m excited.”
As Rodriguez continued to try and put the emotions of the moment into words, hushed giggles snuck around behind him before the Lake Air girls dumped their water cooler on top of their coach. The girls squealed with laughter as their family and friends who joined them on the field applauded.
Despite winning the Southwest Regional Tournament by a combined score of 50-3, it wasn’t an easy road to make history. After jumping out to early leads in run-rule victories over New Mexico and Arkansas, Lake Air had to battle Monday afternoon against Louisiana and come from behind for the first time all tournament in the title game against New Mexico.
As the Texas West bats struggled to heat up, New Mexico’s hitters seemed to find all the holes. New Mexico loaded the bases with two outs before Ramirez struck out the next batter to get out of the frame unharmed.
“Defensively we performed very well,” Rodriguez said. “Our defense is what helped get us through. We win games with our defense.”
An inning later, New Mexico loaded the bases again, this time with only one out. An RBI single by Jaz Griego gave New Mexico an early 1-0 lead. However, the Lake Air defense stepped up once again to get two more outs and end the inning trailing only by a run.
“We got a little nervous,” Thibodeaux said. “But we knew we could come back.”
While defense kept Lake Air in the game, it wasn’t until the bottom of the third that the Texas West offense came to life. And the spark provided by a single by Makayla Ramos and a double by Aziyah Flores soon turned into a wildfire after Thibodeaux’s home run.
Lake Air plated another run in the third to go up 3-1 before adding some insurance in the fifth behind hits from Thibodeaux, Leah Aguilar, Dominique Rodriguez and Ulissa Rivas.
“The home run was huge,” Rodriguez said. “I even told Thibodeaux, ‘Hey, you came through again.’ She’s been pulling a lot of balls. We’ve been working off the tee. Her hard work paid off.”
With Lake Air up 6-1 heading into the top of the sixth, the Texas West champs were three outs away from advancing to the World Series. Huddled up with his team, Rodriguez told his girls, “Three up. Three down.”
“Coach told me it doesn’t matter what happens,” Ramirez said. “If (New Mexico) gets five runs it doesn’t matter. Just get through this inning.”
Looking back at that moment with ice water dripping off him, Rodriguez didn’t see anything special in those words at that moment. It’s what he usually says.
“It motivates them to get that first out,” he said. “They know that the defense is about to start right now.”
Lake Air retired the first batter on a pop fly to Ramirez before Marissa Sanchez got on base with a double. But like Rodriguez told Ramirez, it didn’t matter. Lake Air retired the next two batters to seal the victory.
“I’m very proud of them,” Rodriguez said. “Before this game I told them, regardless of what happens I’m very proud of you. No one has ever gotten this far. Keep your heads high. Keep playing your level of ball, and we’ll be successful. If not, I’m still proud of y’all. All of Waco is proud of y’all.”
The Little League World Series will be held Aug. 9-16 in Portland, Oregon.