STERLING — It was 95 degrees and she’d been on the softball field for seven hours. All Ashleigh Robinson really wanted to do was crawl into the front seat of the family car and crank the air conditioner up to max.
Her Fire & Ice 14-and under teammates were thinking the same thing, but they’d come to Claude Moore Park Sunday morning to compete for a PONY National championship and it was worth another few minutes in the midday sun if it meant leaving town with a big blue banner and a six-foot first-place trophy.
That was all the motivation Robinson needed.
A tiny slick-fielding, switch-hitting shortstop whose tenacity and resolve make her a perennial crowd favorite, Robinson was responsible for another wild celebration on Sunday.
And, the Manassas Park High School freshman did it without even getting a hit.
Robinson’s sacrifice fly to left-center field in the bottom of the eighth inning drove in pinch runner Emily Truxel from third base to give Fire & Ice a 1-0 national championship game victory over the heralded Vienna Shamrocks — capping a perfect week for the Sterling-based squad.
“It was, like, hit it far,” said Robinson. “Wherever I hit it, I knew I had to hit it deep. I just tried to hit it as far as I could.”
The No. 2 batter in Fire and Ice’s lineup, Robinson is traditionally a contact hitter. She is known for her speed and her specialty is slapping the ball on the ground and beating out throws to first base.
Now, Robinson can brag a little bit about her power.
After playing to a scoreless regulation tie, Fire & Ice worked out of a jam in the top of the eighth inning and needed only two batters in their half of the inning to beat the favored Shamrocks for the first time this summer.
“Everybody talks about how good the Shamrocks are and how hard it is to beat them,” said Jessie Green, a Stonewall Jackson sophomore who just returned from a broken tibia. “We really wanted to beat them.”
Green did her part to help Fire & Ice get revenge for two previous losses to the Shamrocks. After throwing a no-hitter in her first game back from a month-long injury, the left-hander shut out the Suncoast (Fla.) Outlaws with a complete-game two-hitter in the semifinals.
Green’s best friend and future Stonewall teammate Kirby Jenkins was the pitching star in the finals. With the help of outstanding play from Osbourn Park-bound catcher Lauren Hensley and amazing defense from Robinson at short and Kori Bonner at third, the Raiders’ freshman gave up only two hits against a team that cruised into the finals with a 4-0 win over the Midway (Del.) Orange Crush.
The Shamrocks went unbeaten in pool play, won their bracket in lopsided fashion and had only one real close call the entire tournament until they ran into Fire & Ice — a team they defeated 1-0 in the ASA Central Atlantic Regional Tournament and by a margin that nobody cared to remember at the Hall of Fame Games in Oklahoma.
“We played them twice this year. The first time we lost 1-0 and the second time we got stomped,” Robinson said.
“They slaughtered us in Oklahoma. They probably thought they’d beat us again,” added right fielder Ashley Ahern, a freshman at Hylton.
“We just used extra hard work. It was from the heart,” Ahern said. “Our goal was to get better than fifth place, but this is the best.”
Behind Jenkins’ prolific drop-curve and Robinson’s clutch at-bat, Fire & Ice headed to Georgia last night for ASA Nationals clutching trophies from their 10th championship of the travel season.
“My goal was to come to play and win,” Jenkins said. “I was excited.”
After learning that 14-&-under powerhouse Rock ‘n’ Fire had lost 1-0 to Orange Crush in the quarterfinals, Fire & Ice seized an opportunity to make team history by winning three games in succession on Sunday. A 4-1 win over the Virginia Lady Eagles — the beach area version of the Shamrocks — and a 6-0 victory over the Outlaws propelled Fire & Ice into the finals of the 121-team competition.
Their championship hopes received an unexpected boost when Shamrocks’ ace Cristi Ecks — an Osbourn High School sophomore — started at first base instead of in the pitcher’s circle. Ecks had just pitched the semifinal game, but she still made her presence felt with a tremendous leaping catch in the fourth inning and a sacrifice bunt that moved a runner into scoring position in the fifth.
Ecks nearly turned out to be the hero in the eighth inning, which was played with a runner starting at second base under the international tie-breaking rules. She advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, but Jenkins retired the final two Shamrocks batters on grounders and that put Robinson in the spotlight.
“We had no pressure,” Robinson said. “The pressure was all on them. They beat us all those other times, but this is the one that counted.”
When it counted most, Fire & Ice executed with the poise of a team that has been in big games before. Truxel started the eighth at second base, advanced to third when Brittany Williamson lined an infield single off the glove of the Shamrocks’ third baseman and scored just ahead of a throw home after Robinson lofted a two-strike fly ball over the drawn-in infield.
It was the first time all season that Robinson celebrated making an out.
“I didn’t care as long as I hit it far,” she said.