By Savvy Rafkin
WESTMINSTER, Colo. – In 2021, they won the bronze medal. In 2022, they claimed the silver medal. In 2023, 16U Team Puerto Rico has their eyes set on bringing the gold medal home.
Triple Crown International Challenge tournament’s Saturday afternoon game against Team Mexico was just an example of what the group was capable of.
The game started slow for Puerto Rico, allowing Mexico to take an early lead with Irma Urnicho’s solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. However, it would be the only time Mexico would find themselves ahead of Puerto Rico.
Third baseman Maya Soto hit a deep home run to drive an additional run across the plate and capture the lead. An explosive sixth inning drove six runs across the plate and left Puerto Rico victorious with a final score of 9-1.
“Our big thing is good defense and good pitching,” Puerto Rico’s head coach Willie Viruet said. “We just exploded that inning. They booted the ball around a little bit that inning, but we got some big hits. Everyone pretty much got a big hit this game, and that makes it special.”
Viruet has been a key part of building the team’s success. He became involved with the squad in 2021 and has watched the growth of the returning players over the course of two years.
With familiarity as a built-in advantage, Puerto Rico has all the tools for success.
To the players, the added pride of representing their heritage means everything. The bleachers were filled with excited parents banging on cowbells and empty buckets rallying around their daughters and teammates.
Catcher Envey Duran felt a sense of pride while wearing her jersey and felt the rush of encouragement from the crowd.
“It means everything,” she said. “I’m representing my family, the country, it’s very special. It’s got a huge impact. I’m very proud to wear this jersey.”
While sporting their country’s jerseys, the bunch gets to finish what they’ve been working on over the past two years.
“It’s a big question mark for this year,” Viruet said. “A lot of the girls on this team are returning from last year’s team. That’s the beauty of this team, we get to finish what we started last year. We got a taste of it last year, but it left a bad taste in our mouths. It’s motivation for this year, and I’ve been thinking about it since the last game.”
Puerto Rico’s mission to claim the gold medal has been long, but the lineup has a chance to bring it all home on Sunday afternoon.