by Michael Roley
As weird as it sounds, sometimes a loss can be a good thing.
That very well may have been the case for the Firecrackers-Kimura 18U squad at the Colorado Sparkler tournament. The Firecrackers (CA) lost 5-1 to the New Jersey Heist Gold on Saturday afternoon during Mt. Elbert I bracket play. The win solidified the Heist’s spot in the championship and forced the Firecrackers to win another game Saturday, which they did by a score of 14-3 to advance to Sunday’s championship bracket.
Fast forward to Sunday’s title game, and that defeat seemed to be a thing of the past for the Firecrackers. They played with a purpose and left little doubt in a championship rematch with the Heist, jumping out to a quick lead and never surrendering it in a dominant 13-0 win to claim the Sparkler 18U Open championship.
For the tournament, the Firecrackers finished 9-2 for the tournament. And it was those defeats, namely the one to the Heist, that served as catalysts for their title run.
“I feel like we needed that (a loss) to get here,” Samantha Fowler said, who is set to play at Long Beach State.
“It just taught us what we needed to do right,” said starting pitcher Jessica Lopez.
The Firecrackers wasted no time flexing their muscles in the championship game. Lopez worked out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the first, ending the inning with a strikeout. Then, in the bottom half of the first, the Firecrackers bats went to work.
Leadoff hitter Sofie Adams got the ball rolling with a solo home run, and from there it was all Firecrackers. Laura Henriksen ripped an RBI double to right-center to put runners on second and third. That set the stage for Fowler, who blasted a three-run home run to left that put the Firecrackers ahead 5-0.
The fast start was critical in setting the tone for the afternoon and was a difference from their prior matchup.
“I feel like we came out with a lot more energy and we jumped on their pitching,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who is set to play at Fullerton Community College, threw five shutout innings while allowing just three hits. Eight of the 15 batters she retired came via strikeout, with many swings-and-misses. Fowler said that a high number of strikeouts isn’t an unusual occurrence when Lopez is in the circle.
“My curve and my rise were really working today,” Lopez said.
The hit parade continued in the second. Adams, who reached base in all four of her at-bats, delivered her second hit in as many innings before Ileana Rivera ripped a two-out single. Catcher Maiya Lopez then smoked a three-run home run to extend the Firecrackers’ lead to 8-0.
The Firecrackers plated another run in the third on an RBI double from Danielle Ramirez. Then, in the fourth, Makenzie Kimura hit an RBI double in a four-run inning that all-but cemented the eight-run mercy rule heading into the fifth.
In a week-long tournament with nearly a dozen games played, it’s difficult to pinpoint a turning point or an exact moment where things came together. However, the Firecrackers were able to point to one, a 10-run inning in their 13-5 semifinal win over Nor Cal Legends earlier in the morning as a sequence that made their confidence soar.
“That second game where we scored 10 runs in one inning,” Lopez said. “That’s when we were like ‘Oh wow. Our bats are alive.”’
Both Fowler and Lopez said the Firecrackers saved their best for last, playing their most complete game when it mattered most in the championship. And now they’ll travel back to Southern California with their suitcases a little heavier with the first-place trophies they earned. And with that, plenty of memories and lessons learned will go back with them, too.
“For me, we shouldn’t take anyone lightly and we should always keep the energy alive and never settle for anything,” Lopez said. “And we all have each other’s backs no matter what.”