Seating was sparse at the George W. Bush Little League Leadership Training Facility. There just weren’t enough seats for the loyal Waco fans. The community showed up for its team — Lake Air Little League — in its opening contest of the Southwestern Regional.
The Lake Air bleachers beside the team’s dugout were packed full of fans clad in green, along with the bleachers behind home plate and a good section of the opposing team’s bleachers as well. Even more fans stretched through the grass alongside the left field fence as Lake Air run-ruled Westgate, the New Mexico state champ, 12-0, on Thursday afternoon.
“There were a lot of people,” Lake Air manager David Rodriguez said. “People I haven’t seen in years. I’m glad they came out. It’s exciting. There were a lot of family, friends, relatives and other leagues are here representing the rest of Waco. We’re happy they’re here. We’re humbled and very excited with the turnout.”
Despite the large crowd and the electric atmosphere under the red-hot Texas sun, Lake Air didn’t change anything about its game. As Rodriguez mentioned earlier in the week, they win behind their defense but their bats provide an exclamation point beside that victory.
“We had the hitting pop that we normally have and, as you can see, it paid off,” Rodriguez said. “It helped motivate us to each inning. As far as the defense, we had three-up, three-down several times with the exception of the third and fourth innings. When you have defense that backs you up, even when you’re getting hard shots like that, to know that they can make those plays definitely gives the pitcher a lot of confidence as well as gives the team a lot of confidence. We’re proud of them right now and the way they played.”
The first inning was barely underway when the exclamation point popped up for Lake Air. The Texas West champs hit through their order once before New Mexico was able to get an out.
Until then, Lake Air scored nine runs after Asharah Thibodeaux led things off with a triple. With Thibodeaux on third — and the bases full after Serena Guardiola walked and Daniella Ramirez was plunked — Yanijah Cruz got the home crowd on its feet with a two-RBI double to deep left field. All in all, Lake Air plated 10 runs off five hits and two New Mexico errors in the first frame.
“It was exciting,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what we look for. Whether it’s four runs or 10 runs, we want to see that dominance they have at times when they hit. It doesn’t always work that way. We saw it here. When we see that we build off of that. Basically goes to show that they can do it when they’re up to it. They exceeded my expectations, so I’m proud of them.”
While the offense exploded early for Lake Air, its defense kept New Mexico off the bases for the most part. Lake Air retired seven New Mexico batters in a row before Erikha Ibarra knocked the first hit off Lake Air’s Ramirez.
It was only one of two hits Ramirez gave up on the afternoon. The Lake Air pitcher threw eight first-pitch strikes to the 14 batters she faced. Overall, she threw 35 strikes in comparison to 13 balls.
“Pitching was excellent,” Rodriguez said. “There were very few balls. I always emphasize to try to throw that first pitch a strike. That way we can build on that and back you up. Pitching was really good. She allowed only two base hits. Other than that it was really good. We’re really proud of her. Her ball is spinning and moving the way we want it to. It’s tough to hit.”
After only throwing four innings on Thursday afternoon, Ramirez will start in the circle once again for Lake Air when it takes on the Arkansas state champs at 2 p.m. Friday at the George W. Bush Little League Leadership Training Facility.