WESTMINSTER – Puerto Rico’s 0-3 route through pool play might’ve left a few faithful fans leery about the team’s chances in the 2021 International Challenge.
Back-to-back wins to start Sunday’s bracket play, however, reinvigorated an already raucous crowd.
Even with its semifinal loss to eventual Gold Medal Champions USA Blue, 5-3, Puerto Rico still had something to fight for in the Bronze Medal match against Canada Red. Playing for pride and for country, Puerto Rico wouldn’t let the opportunity go by the wayside, walking off Canada in dramatic 7-6 fashion.
“I had faith in the girls,” said head coach Eve Soto Suarez. “We had a rough day yesterday going 0-3 but today they came hungry.”
Right from the first pitch, everything seemed to go as planned for Puerto Rico. Tatiana Roman led the game off with a single and the home team was off and running. A sacrifice bunt from Kathryia Garcia moved Roman to second, allowing Ana Roman to bring her in with a sacrifice fly to centerfield.
The home side needed far less pragmatism to put up runs in the second and third innings with solo shots from Makayla Nieves and Lillyana Travieso. Altogether, the offense was firing at all cylinders for ace pitcher Macey Cintron.
“I was trying to hold things down for my team,” said Cintron. “They had already put a run on the board and my job was to keep the lead.”
Keep the lead intact she did. Through the first five innings, Cintron surrendered only a single hit and gave up one free pass.
With everything falling Puerto Rico’s way, it seemed as if the persistent rain throughout the game hit the ground to the same rhythmic beat of the drums celebrating every step closer to a Bronze Medal.
Suddenly, a sharp staccato cut through the chorus of cheers in the top of the sixth inning.
Eight straight Canadien batters reached safely to begin the frame, including a trio of iced-cold home runs for the team from the Great White North. In total, Canada plated six runners to spark a string of celebrations of its own, leapfrogging Puerto Rico, 6-5.
However, Soto Suarez’s squad wasn’t about to let one minor misstep ruin what had otherwise been a memorable weekend. Reverting to the same formula as the opening inning, singles from Reagan Torres and Makayla Nieves as well as a sacrifice bunt from Juliana Nieves and an intentional walk setup Travieso with an opportunity to end the game with one swing of the bat.
“My job was just to hit the ball hard, anywhere,” explained Travieso. “If I walk, oh well, the bases were loaded.”
Travieso did indeed hit the ball hard but time and time again could not put it between the foul lines. Agonizingly, the at-bat carried on.
“As I got deeper and deeper into the at-bat, I got more and more excited,” Travieso said. “And with that, I also got more and more calm in a way.”
“When I saw her in the box, I saw her so peaceful,” said Soto Suarez. “At that moment, I knew she was going to get the hit.”
On the fourth 3-2 pitch of the at-bat, Travieso prevailed. Her double down the left-field line brought home two runs and brought her team an International Challenge Bronze Medal.
“My grandparents are from Puerto Rico,” explained Travieso. “We’re a big baseball family. I’ve played softball my whole life. I don’t know Spanish very well so the only way I connect with my heritage is through softball. It was special for me to wear the uniform and represent my family watching in the crowd.”
“This is just the beginning for us,” Cintron said. “We’ll keep going from here.”