Doral Academy’s softball team knew what it had to do Tuesday night.
The Firebirds would play for Janelly.
Only three days after learning about the sudden death of freshman infielder Janelly Rivalta, Doral played and won its regional semifinal playoff game against TERRA as scheduled at its home field.
The 5-0 victory assured the Firebirds that their season would go on at least one more round as they will now travel to Stuart on Friday to play South Fork in the next round at 7 p.m.
But the evening meant much more for a grieving squad that suppressed its emotions for two hours in order to finish a softball game the way they thought their teammate would have wanted.
“The players made the decision to play and honor Janelly,” Doral coach Walter Acevedo said. “She was our spark, always cheering for us and playing with a lot of heart. There was no other decision to make but to play.”
Even more than hour before the game’s first pitch, Doral Academy’s student body poured into the school’s stadium and showed their support and respect to the Rivalta family.
Purple was Rivalta’s favorite color.
A crowd of more than 500 attended the game with the majority wearing purple T-shirts with Rivalta’s jersey No. 10 and either her name or initials on them. Both Doral and TERRA players wore some kind of purple gear with their uniforms, whether it was tape, socks, hair bands or ribbons. Both sides and those in attendance wore black ribbons as well.
A somber tone prevailed during pregame warm-ups contrary to the usual raucous atmosphere of a playoff game. Many in attendance, including Rivalta’s friends and family, greeted each other with hugs and often let the tears flow.
“It’s been a very emotional two days for us,” Doral Academy principal Douglas Rodriguez said. “For this team to come together like this says a lot about their character. It’s amazing.”
After the game, Doral’s players and coaches gathered with Rivalta’s family at the pitching circle and held a moment of silence.
A framed picture collage was presented to Rivalta’s parents, and purple balloons with messages to Rivalta written by her teammates were released in unison to honor her memory.
Doral announced after the game it would retire Rivalta’s jersey and the jerseys the team wore Tuesday evening. The scoreboard was changed to read No. 10’s on each side in her honor as well.
“We knew it would be tough to play today, but we didn’t want to quit on Janelly,” Acevedo said. “We knew she wouldn’t have quit on us.”
According to Rodriguez, Rivalta’s funeral will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn at 11655 SW 117th Ave. in Miami.