by Kyle Koso
Never playing from behind, but never really pulling ahead, left the Firecrackers Brashear 18's drifting in a fuzzy place Wednesday.
But there's nothing like a big hit and some terrific defense to snap the moment into focus, and the Firecrackers got the clarity they needed on the way to a 7-5 victory over Oklahoma Athletics-Madden at the Colorado 4th of July TV Power Pool game in Westminster.
With the score knotted at 4-all and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Denise Armendariz lofted a home run to break the tie. Carley Brown (BYU) came in to pitch 2 2/3 innings of standout relief, and second baseman Alyssa Hernandez (Cal State Fullerton) and shortstop Angelina Bebek (Army) locked down on a few big fielding plays to seal the verdict.
Armendariz had singled twice earlier in the game, so she had the confidence and momentum needed for her big-moment swing in the fifth.
"I just wanted to have nice at-bat. I wanted to get the ball in play and hit it hard, and help my team get back up in the lead there," said Armendariz, who is headed to UNLV to play collegiately. "I was thinking in my other two at-bats and knew what I had to do to be successful. My team is always pretty confident; we had our pitcher's back and we knew we'd make it happen."
The Brashear squad jumped ahead 2-0 in the first, thanks to an error and a single from Armendariz. A home run from Kinsey Koeltzow (an Oklahoma signee) and an RBI single by Emily Hott (Baylor) tied it after the top of the third; RBI singles from Donna Friedman and Lani Rodriguez (Middle Tennessee State) pushed Brashear up again, 4-2.
Nobody could keep Koeltzow in the park, however, as she drilled another home run to bring in Mikayla Oaks (Cameron Univ.), tying the score 4-4. Armendariz answered with her homer, and the Firecrackers added two insurance runs in the fifth as Jacey Bourgeois (Long Beach State) chipped in with a sacrifice fly and Bebek came across on another error.
"I felt really calm; our coaches told us to remember that the best players are the calmest ones ... you embrace the opportunities you're given, and that's what I was doing," said Friedman, who had three hits and is headed to the University of Virginia. "We were confident in each other and knew we'd pick each other up. Carley came in and did a good job, looking very confident, and the defense has been super strong."
"Denise has been clutch for us and has hit big home runs for us the past three years. When the stage is bigger, that kid performs, and I felt it in my gut," said head coach Sean Brashear. "I told the dugout, D's gonna hit one. This is a great group, and as connected as any I've coached.
"They play for each other, and they are excited to make plays. We talk to them, how great players make great plays, good players make good plays, average players make average plays. Which one do you want to be? For tonight, they were great players."
The Athletics scored one more run in the top of the seventh, on a home run from Karrah Dean.