Three-peat! Astros win RBI softball title

August 13th, 2021

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Houston Astros Foundation RBI standout Turiya Coleman wasn’t going to let a couple of tough earlier at-bats stand in the way of her team’s title chances in the 2021 RBI World Series.

Coleman -- playing her last game at the travel-ball level -- rapped a two-out, two-run single in the top of the seventh, breaking a 3-3 tie and guiding the Astros to a 5-3 win over Atlanta Braves RBI on Friday to claim the tournament championship at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.

The incoming Oklahoma Sooner freshman’s single, then followed by three more outs from reliever Melonie Guardiola, earned the club its third consecutive title (2018 and ’19) in its 12th consecutive tournament appearance.

With two outs and Jaelyn Simmons on first in the seventh, No. 2 hitter Janaiya Thomas (3-for-4, two RBIs, two stolen bases) doubled into the left-center-field gap, but left fielder Arianna Cox-Cole cut it off and was able to keep Simmons from scoring from first.

In her final at-bat, the lefty-hitting Coleman followed with a tiebreaking single on a hard grounder between the shortstop and the second-base bag, good enough to easily plate Simmons and Thomas.

“It couldn’t get any better,” said Coleman, who will begin her career at OU next week. “I had been struggling. Going up to the box, I was just thinking, ‘Find a good pitch, hit it hard.’”

In fairness to the hard-hitting Coleman, her struggles were because of fine fielding plays by Atlanta rather than a lack of effort or skill on her part.

With Thomas on third after a pair of stolen bases in the third, Braves second baseman Britney Phally made a diving stop and throw from her knees to peg Coleman for the third out.

Atlanta center fielder Brooke Finley made a diving catch -- complete with the ball almost bobbling out of her glove -- with Houston’s Alyssa Woods and Thomas in scoring position with two outs in the fifth to keep it knotted at 3, which prevented a potential five-RBI day for Coleman.

Atlanta started the game with a diving catch by Cox-Cole and a leaping snare of Thomas’ line drive by Phally, but Coleman said her teammates didn’t get discouraged.

“We were telling each other to keep hitting the ball hard. We knew if we kept hitting it hard it would find its way through,” Coleman said.

Thomas played for the Astros when she was 13 but didn’t return. However, the shortstop -- who will begin her playing career at the University of Houston next week -- came back this season.

“I couldn’t miss it. It meant a lot to me to come back," Thomas said. "This is a good way to end my summer."

A sophomore at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., about 80 miles south of Atlanta, center fielder Woods scored in the third on Thomas’ single to right for a 2-1 Houston lead.

“This one was more stressful than the other two -- it was definitely stressful,” said Woods, who joins teammate Maya Barnes as the only Astros players who have been a part of all three titles.

Guardiola relieved starter Jennifer Gress and earned the win with two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and a walk, both in the seventh, while striking out one.

The contest’s final out came after a long battle with Finley, who fouled off four pitches. Finley finally grounded out to Coleman, and the championship celebration was on.

“I was kind of nervous and shaking,” Guardiola said. “I knew if I hit my spots, my team would back me up, and they did. I thought that [last] at-bat was going to just keep going and going.”

Houston coach Megan Hays said the game started off like the previous day’s win over Harrisburg -- with multiple defensive gems.

“Everybody was just making incredible plays,” Hays said. “[After losing to Atlanta] in pool play, we knew it would be a dogfight. We just needed to go out and outhit the other team, and we did [6-3].”

In the game’s most pivotal moment, Hays said she had the right hitter at the plate.

“She is the kid you want up there with the game on the line," the coach said. "Her bat came around at the right time. I knew she was going to do it."

The Braves were undefeated through its first six games, including an 8-4 win Tuesday over Houston.

They had a 3-2 lead through four frames after first baseman Kaliyah Matthews’ two-run homer bounced off the top of the left-field fence -- maybe a sign that it was to be Atlanta’s day again.

“I thought we were really going to pull through at that point and have it this time, but it didn’t work out,” said Matthews, who homered in the last two games of her career before heading off to Georgia Gwinnett College to play and room with Finley.