by Michael Roley
There’s a common cliché used in sports for motivational purposes that most athletes have likely heard.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
That saying is applicable in many situations. However, when a team starts well, maintains that steady level of play throughout its performance, and then tops things off with a strong finish, that arguably overused cliché is rather invalid.
And the performance from the Firecrackers CC-James 14U team Friday afternoon would be one that would qualify as such. The Firecrackers, based out of Central California, took an early lead, played solidly throughout, and then closed the door at the end as they beat Impact Gold DFW by a score of 5-3 at Barnes Complex in Loveland.
The win advanced the Firecrackers through to the next round of bracket play in the 14 Open Gold A division.
“What impressed me the most is they come out focused and ready to go every time,” head coach Sidney James said. “It’s not trying to overplay and overdo it, just keeping things simple, pitching and hitting well, being disciplined and having great-at bats. We did that for the course of the game and that’s what impressed me. And that’s what helps us be successful.”
The Firecrackers came out strong with their first two batters reaching base. A sacrifice bunt from shortstop Marissa Fondtain put runners on second and third for starting pitcher Lillianna Garcia, who hit a two-run single to left field to give the Firecrackers the early lead.
Perhaps one of the most defining plays of the game occurred in the bottom half of the first with Garcia in the circle and the Impact with runners on first and third. The Impact’s Emma Robertson hit a fly-ball to right field where the Firecrackers’ right fielder caught it before firing a bullet toward home as an Impact runner tagged from third.
The throw was perfectly on-line, up the third base side where catcher Aaliyah Pineda caught and applied the tag for the out. As this was happening, the Impact’s runner on first broke for second. After the tag, Pineda fired the ball down to second to nail the runner and complete a rare triple play.
“I think that picked us up.” Garcia said. “They had runners on and I was starting to get a little frustrated and then when they picked me up like that, it was really nice.”
Garcia delivered a gem of an outing in the circle. The rising freshman, who also plays second base, threw seven innings and allowed just three runs while striking out six batters. The Impact were not able to square many balls up against her as she induced several pop-ups to the infield and numerous ground balls that the Firecrackers defense handled without incident.
She said afterward that her best pitch, her curveball, was spot-on throughout the afternoon.
“I was just focused on hitting my spots,” Garcia said. “And I knew my team was going to be there to back me up.”
The Firecrackers pushed across two more runs in the second thanks to a two-run double from Destyne White. They would add their fifth run in the fifth inning on a Pineda RBI single.
The Impact started a mini-rally in the sixth on a run-scoring double from Baylea Myers followed by an RBI single from Bianca Raney that shrunk the Firecrackers’ lead to 5-3, where it would stay the rest of the contest.
The Impact brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but Garcia struck out the final batter of the game to secure the win.
The Firecrackers are now 5-0 at the Colorado 4th of July tournament after running the table in pool play. Now after a win to kick off bracket play, they are poised for the rest of the weekend.
“We just need to stay disciplined, stay humble, pitch well, hit well, and play clean defense,” James said. “It’s out there for anybody to grab.”