Houston back for redemption at Softball RBI World Series

August 9th, 2023

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Houston Astros Nike RBI softball team gets loud every time they step on the field, but you could have heard a pin drop in their dugout after the 2022 championship game.

After winning three straight championships from 2018-21 (2020 was canceled because of COVID-19), the Astros’ bid for a fourth straight championship last year fell a run short as they lost 5-4 to the Michael Stepp Nike RBI softball team of Harrisburg Pa., with the game-tying run at third base.

This year Houston is back at the RBI World Series at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex, and it has its sights set on redemption. They got off to a strong start on Tuesday morning when they beat the Nobu Yamauchi Nike RBI team from Hawaii, 8-0.

“Last year’s upset was really upsetting to us and our team because it was something new,“ said Jada Cooper, who plays third base and catcher for Houston. “Usually, we’re known for winning, and it just didn’t come out our way, as we thought it was going to be. This year, we’re back and strong and more hungry.

“We’re here to take what we left on the table.”

With the pain came lessons. Cooper said the loss caused her team to focus on just playing their game. Individually, Cooper has learned to be more upbeat and to trust her teammates more.

“Being more of a teammate and not getting down on myself,“ Cooper said of areas in which she’s improved. “Not playing for myself, but also playing for my team. If I strike out or don’t have a good at-bat, I know my team has my back.”

Cooper’s teammate, catcher Karisma Garcia, noted the pressure of potentially winning a fourth straight ring and the mental aspect of the game that took its toll on the team.

“[We were] thinking about it too much,“ Garcia said. “We had the team to do it. It was just our mentality. We were overthinking stuff.”

For Megan Hays, Houston’s manager and youth coordinator for the RBI program, the loss was painful. With the heartbreak her team felt, Hays knew she had to make sure her players were OK and understood the totality of what happened.

“It was very devastating, not just personally, but devastating in how I knew the girls were going to come out feeling,” Hays said. “The girls work hard every year perfecting their game, and to come up one run short, I knew I had to look more at the girls and make sure they were OK mentally [and] that they knew it wasn’t one thing that any one person did. It was just a setback that we needed to eventually work back from this year to try and win again.”

Houston’s journey back led them to regionals in Dallas against the New Orleans Youth Academy, who they beat to secure a bid in the RBI World Series.

On Tuesday against the Nobu Yamauchi Nike RBI team, neither team mounted any offense through the first four innings, the Astros finally broke through in the top of the fifth with five runs. Cooper came up with the bases loaded and two outs after Houston took a 1-0 lead. On a two-strike count, Cooper launched a no-doubter over the center-field fence for a grand slam to effectively put the game out of reach.

“Before that pitch, I hit a foul ball that was over the fence, but it was foul,“ Cooper said. “So I was like, 'OK, I’m on it,' then she threw it again and I hit it over. It was just nice to have my teammates because I knew I could do it. I just needed encouragement.”

In a sense, the victory showed the growth that Houston has made in the last year. They overcame a slow start and eventually broke through, rather than getting flustered.

With that growth, Houston is ready to reclaim the top spot at the RBI tournament.

“We just have that grit and fight in us,” Garcia said. “We want to show people that they can’t put us down. We’re going to come right back up and prove them wrong.”

Tuesday’s Softball Nike RBI World Series results:

Miami Marlins Nike RBI defeats Dominican Republic Nike RBI, 5-1

DC Elite Nike RBI defeats Cleveland Guardians Nike RBI, 7-2

Roberto Clemente Nike RBI Jersey City defeats Cincinnati Reds Nike RBI, 7-2

Houston Astros Nike RBI defeats Nobu Yamauchi Nike RBI, 8-0

Nobu Yamauchi Nike RBI defeats Cincinnati Reds Nike RBI, 12-7

Houston Astros Nike RBI defeats Roberto Clemente Nike RBI, 6-4

Dominican Republic Nike RBI defeats Cleveland Guardians Nike RBI, 13-1

DC Elite Nike RBI v. Miami Marlins Nike RBI is currently 8-4 and was suspended due to weather conditions. The game will resume Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET