Nicaragua finishes strong on Day 1 of Nike RBI softball tournament

June 25th, 2024
(Credit: Jackie Robinson Training Complex)

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- In its debut on the world stage of international softball, the Nicaraguan girls team may have simply run out of time.

On Day 1 of the Nike RBI World Softball Regional Tournament at the historic Jackie Robinson Training Complex on Friday, the Central American team -- named Helping Kids Round First (HKRF) -- started slowly and was saddled with an early double-digit deficit but rebounded in a losing effort, 11-6, against Puerto Rico (Carolina) on the Teamwork Turf field.

After HKRF cut the lead to five, play was halted with two outs in the bottom of the fourth due to the matchup reaching its two-hour time limit.

Playing in the shadows of the elite 42 building on a baseball field also used for softball, Nicaragua manager Nadia Nabhan’s group of girls allowed a four-spot to Puerto Rico after one inning but nibbled into the lead, 4-1, on a double-steal in the second. However, the island country’s squad produced seven runs to make it 11-1.

“I felt like our girls were a little disappointed at the beginning or they didn’t have the same energy,” said Nabhan. “But I talked to our girls and said, ‘I don’t see you guys in here. Where are you?’ It was not the team I had seen in Nicaragua, so let’s take this opportunity and make the best of it.”

(Credit: Jackie Robinson Training Complex)

The dugout then came alive, with HKRF rallying in the third and crafting a five-run outburst in its final at-bats in a productive fourth.

A leadoff single by Hellen Mendoza and a stolen base set the club up right away. Following Alondra Zapata’s single, the duo put the score at 11-4 by scoring on a wild pitch.

Abril Vallecillo’s two-run double plated the final runners, but the threat and the outcome soon ended there.

Following Nabhan’s little pep talk inside the dugout, the team got an unusual boost from reserve Allison Rocha, who never set foot on the diamond.

Smaller than most suited up in Nicaraguan blue, Rocha provided a large voice in leading support for her teammates.

During their five-run showing over the final two innings, she leaned on the post at the dugout’s entrance and led boisterous cheers and chants as her team mounted its best showing in the game, sparking emotion and passion that had been lacking at the start.

“Since the national [tournament] last year, I took the role to encourage the girls to be upbeat and support the team,” said Rocha through Nabhan’s translation. “I love to encourage the girls and take that role because it’s my way to support the team and make the team even closer together.”

(Credit: Jackie Robinson Training Complex)

Teammate Ximena Monrroy relished the chance to come to the United States and play in the regional.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Monrroy, 17. “I started playing when I was 9 years old, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to get out of Nicaragua and play in another country.”

Nabhan said all the hard work over the past three years paid off by getting to Florida’s Treasure Coast.

“This is our third year of participating in RBI,” she said. “In the past two years, we participated with our baseball team, but this is the first time with the girls. And we made it here.

“It was a long, tedious process [to get here], but the girls gave it their all to be able to be part of the selection. … We played with 10 different teams in Nicaragua, and from those 10 teams we made the selection of the best players.”

Unsurprisingly, the accommodations at the Jackie Robinson Training Center have blown away HKRF.

“This place is amazing,” Nabhan said. “The girls were really impressed by the facilities and the rooms and also the fact that they have some kind of a chance to get a scholarship or an opportunity at some point. [It] really inspires them.”