By Anderson Haigler
RIVERSIDE, CALIF. — Brianne Weiss had dreamed of this moment, of a chance to pitch her team to a national championship, of an opportunity to compete against the best and make good on her team’s lofty ambitions. So when a nagging back injury flared up — one that had forced her out of her last game — the left-handed pitcher did what she had to do to stay in the circle, helping to pitch the Firecrackers Weil to a 5-2 win over the Orange County Batbusters Stith in the 14U championship game at the Triple Crown Sports USA Nationals fastpitch tournament on Friday afternoon.
“(I felt) extremely stiff,” said Weiss, who threw 3.2 scoreless innings before fellow lefty Zoe Prystajko took over in the bottom of the fourth. “Being out there with a lot of obstacles to go through, it was a really good experience…I didn’t want to give up out there.”
Weiss, a 2024 high school graduate who attends Orange Lutheran, racked up four strikeouts alongside just a single walk, then Prystajko, a 2024 graduate from Huntington Beach High School, closed the game out with 3.1 strong innings of her own, fanning three Batbusters hitters before she secured the final out.
“Bri was gutty,” Firecrackers head coach Rob Weil said after the game. “She gutted it out for three or four innings, then Zoe came in and closed the door and hit spots…they both were pretty spectacular all week for us.”
A scoreless game until the contest neared its midpoint, the Firecrackers got things started in the top of the third by playing a bit of small ball. Outfielder Lily Knox singled, then Angelina Apodaca added a single of her own. Designated hitter Bella Rodriguez then laid down a bunt and reached on a defensive miscue by the Batbusters, allowing Knox to sprint home and give the Firecrackers an early 1-0 advantage. They added on via a walk by Amanda Urbina and a pair of RBI singles to left field from Faith Hernandez and Marley Cortez, and by the end of the third the Firecrackers were out to a 3-0 lead.
“I just thought that we stayed with the plan,” Weil said of his team’s pivotal third inning rally. “We used the entire field, we hit the ball where it was pitched, we didn’t try to overdo anything, we just stayed real simple…and it produced some runs.”
Ava Morales helped add some valuable insurance a frame later, blasting a towering solo home run over the left field fence in the top of the fourth before the Firecrackers added another run in the fifth after a Batbusters error.
“(I didn’t know it was gone) off the bat, but when I rounded first and I was looking at it, it was gone,” Morales said of her round-tripper, which put her team ahead by five. “It meant a lot because we had all been working hard, and our pitchers were all burnt out, so we wanted to score runs for our pitchers.”
Both late-game runs would prove to be important as the Batbusters rallied in the bottom of the seventh. Saydrie Meono began the last-chance effort with a double, then Taylor Schumaker hammered a home run to left field, pulling the “home” team to within three as they were down to their last out. But in the end, it would be the Firecrackers who would prevail as Prystajko bounced back to shut the door and secure her team the 5-2 victory.
“It’s a positive,” Prystajko said of winning the 14U title. “Since we didn’t do as well in past tournaments, it was good for our team to get this win.”
As Weiss surveyed the action on one of the major league-styled fields at Big League Dreams Riverside after the last out, minutes after her team received medals and hoisted a large wooden trophy adorned with a golden softball glove, the pitcher reflected.
“It means everything,” said Weiss. “Pretty much all of us have dreamed of winning a national championship…this is very big for our team, and I just love how happy they are right now.”
Asked if it was fitting to achieve her team’s softball aspirations at a field with such an appropriate name, Weiss paused, and then laughed.
Big League Dreams come true, indeed.