The Doral Academy softball team showed remarkable resilience on and off the field during the past two weeks.
The death of freshman infielder Janelly Rivalta on April 25 left the Firebirds reeling emotionally during a promising playoff run they hoped would culminate with the school’s first state championship.
Those hopes were dashed Monday night with one swing with a 3-2 walk-off loss in 10 innings to host Stuart South Fork in the Region 4-6A final.
South Fork center fielder Aly Little smacked a line drive solo home run over the center-field fence off Doral relief pitcher Jennifer Acevedo as the Firebirds (23-7) were eliminated in this round for the second consecutive season.
“We wanted this so bad, and every second it was just nerve-racking,” said Acevedo, who relieved starter Anieliese Palmeiro after South Fork tied the score in the seventh. “We knew one pitch or one error could end the game.”
Little’s blast capped the heartbreaking loss for Doral, which stood three outs from a potential first trip to state before watching a 2-0 lead slip away in the seventh inning.
Although painful, the defeat did not crush a team that echoed how proud it was to have persevered in such a short amount of time.
“I’m proud of my whole team, especially my seniors, because they have been carrying our players and teaching them to believe in each other,” Doral coach Walter Acevedo said. “I know they feel like they let down their teammate, but they didn’t let anybody down. It’s tough to lose, but this is a game after all, and they played their hearts out.”
The Firebirds learned of Rivalta’s death less than two days after their regional quarterfinal win over Goleman. Doral contemplated postponing its semifinal against TERRA the following Tuesday. But the team chose to play on schedule, and Doral beat TERRA 5-0 this past Tuesday.
That day after the game, players, coaches, family and friends joined together on the field to pay their respects to Rivalta in an emotional postgame gathering.
The next day, this past Wednesday, the Firebirds attended Rivalta’s funeral and said their goodbyes. Rivalta’s burial was Thursday. Doral was granted a postponement of its game against South Fork until Monday to have enough time to prepare for the game.
“We came together as a family like never before,” Palmeiro said. “Losing one of our closest friends has been a big fight. Overcoming something like that was incredible. We kept fighting for Janelly and we just gave it our all.”
Palmeiro allowed two hits through the first six innings and struck out 10 Monday. Her two-run triple in the fifth inning gave Doral its only lead.
But Palmeiro ran into trouble in the seventh after walking the first two batters to open the inning. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners into scoring position, and designated player Barbara Cook hit a double down the left-field line to score both and tie the score.
Acevedo entered the game and surrendered a single up the middle by rival pitcher Morgan Blourne. Pinch runner Sam Williams rounded third to try and win the game. But Doral center fielder Grethell Santos fired a perfect throw to the plate, and catcher Melody Grafals tagged Williams out to send the game to extra innings.
DOR 000 020 000 0 – 2 4 1
SF 000 000 200 1 – 3 4 1
WP: Morgan Blourne. LP: Jennifer Acevedo.