2022 SENIOR FAREWELL
Article by Kraig King
And then there was none. The 2022 summer softball championship season ended for Firecrackers Rico on Saturday July 30 at the Alliance National Championships near Indianapolis in Westfield, Indiana. What was once a calendar full of practices, travel, games, and tournaments finally saw the time run out on what was an extremely successful year for the Firecrackers flagship team. The eight departing seniors and a talented group of underclassman team finished the campaign strong with a third-place finish at the talent latent 64 team Alliance Championships, leaving it all on the field in their pursuit of the crown. There is a lot to look forward to in 2023 for this group of returning players, but for now we look back one final time and reflect on the accomplishments and achievements from this amazing group of seniors as they ride off into the sunset to begin their college careers.
Three-year starter and Stanford signee Emily Jones finished her Firecrackers career by making 1st team All-Alliance for her performance during the final days playing for head coach Tony Rico. Jones was on fire going 16 for 39 (.410 average) with 9 RBI, 11 runs scored and drawing three walks while batting at the top of the lineup. Emily also played an incredible third base and was clearly the most valuable player on a team full of extremely skilled players. Her leadership was valuable to the success of this team and it showed with her attitude and desire. “I felt good this summer and felt like I was in the pocket which enabled me to slow the game down a lot”, Jones said when asked about her final season. “This team means a lot to me and has taught me so much. I was so grateful to be surrounded by amazing people and players. I’m extremely proud of our team and what we did this summer. We fought hard and played the game the right way all the way until the end.”
Catcher/First baseman Zoe King has only worn the Firecrackers name across her chest for her entire travel ball career and she put in a very solid season behind the dish and at the plate this summer. She had a moment to shine when she crushed a two-run home run in the top of the 7th inning during a 4-0 victory over Corona Angels Tyson in the quarterfinals of the Alliance. The monster blast helped secure a berth in the Final Four for Firecrackers Rico. The North Dakota State signee said the moment was special because of how close the team was in 2022. “The team chemistry was amazing this year and we all got along really well, and I think it showed by how hard we played for each other,” King said when asked what was different about this group and what she will remember the most about her senior season. “We enjoyed being around each other and playing together. I am going to miss the conversations in the dugout and in the bullpen. This was a really fun season that I will never forget. It’s been a privilege to wear the Firecrackers name across my chest for the last eight years and I will never forget everything I’ve learned from my coaches and fellow teammates.”
Future Ohio State Buckeye Skylar Limon definitely has left her mark in center field as she leaves the Firecrackers for the bright lights of the Big Ten. To say Limon covers a lot of ground in the outfield is the understatement of the century. Skylar can flat out fly and has made some of the most amazing catches over the last three seasons for Firecrackers Rico. None better than the run saving catch she made during the quarterfinal victory over Corona Angels Tyson at the Alliance. Clinging to a tight 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th inning Limon, shaded towards the gap in left center field, sprinted to the opposite gap in deepest right center field to make an incredible running catch just in front of the fence taking a sure triple away and preventing the Corona Angels from tying the game. If you ask Skylar about the catch it wasn’t all that big of a deal to her. “To be honest I just felt like I was doing my job as an outfielder. I am supposed to go get those balls for my pitcher and let her know her outfielders have her back,” Limon said casually. Supporting her pitchers and teammates is what drives Skylar to excel on and off the field. While her time be over with them it is clear they will always remain with her. “This team has meant so much to me. I love these girls so much and it is like leaving family behind now that it is over. I have grown so much since I first joined this team and to be a part of everyone’s journey is truly a blessing. I wish nothing but the best to all of the girls and I will be rooting for them from Ohio.”
The steady play of Kennedy Bunker behind the plate and at first base, as well as in the batter’s box will be hard to replace in 2023 for Firecrackers Rico. Bunker a Fresno State commit was a model of consistency and gave the team a strong left-handed bat right in the middle of the lineup. She may have been at her very best during the Colorado Fireworks 4th of July Tournament in Aurora, Colorado in late June. Kennedy started the tournament off red hot by going 8 for 8 at the plate to begin the tournament and finished strong leading Firecrackers Rico to a third-place finish at the prestigious summer event. “Starting off 8 for 8 in Colorado for me meant that the hard work was really paying off and that I was having fun with the game again because I was comfortable where I was at,” Bunker said when describing her tremendous tournament. Without Kennedy in the lineup there is no question this team finishes back in the pack and doesn’t have the success they experienced in 2022. “Helping the team finish third in Colorado was a huge achievement for us and I am glad we could do that in my last season as a Firecracker. The team this year was really fun to be a part of because we all learned together and pushed through some tough competition. I loved that we all were genuinely happy for one another’s success and all the dancing in the dugout to funny names we had for each other is something that I will always cherish.”
2022 California Gatorade Player of the Year and Notre Dame signee Micaela Kastor had a monster year both in high school and with Firecrackers Rico, with her consistent pitching performance peeking during the Colorado Sparkler where she put in 25 innings of work, striking out 30, helping the team to a 3rd place finish. Equally impressive during the Alliance nationals, she helped the team to another 3rd place finish with a 1.37 ERA, striking out 14 in 15 innings pitched. “Even though some of our games were so unbelievably stressful, the excitement of the moment and being in the circle is a feeling I won’t ever forget. The joy and happiness I felt on the mound during these moments (this summer) will stay with me forever.” While Micaela’s achievement list is long, it really comes down to playing the game and connecting with her teammates. “I wouldn’t have wanted to play my last travel ball tournaments with any other group of girls. They have shown me what it’s like to be surrounded by constant positivity and support. These girls will be some of my closest friends for a long time and it’s meant absolutely everything to have experienced it together.”
The equally amazing Sydney Somerndike (also named California Gatorade Player of the Year in 2021) was phenomenal in the circle during Alliance Nationals, pitching 19 innings and striking out 28 batters. The University of Arizona-bound pitcher pitched a gem in her first outing at the Alliance against the East Cobb Bullets, striking out 11 batters in 4 innings of work, nearly pitching a perfect game. With her travel career winding down her emotions were all over the place as she stepped into the circle that day. “I was feeling all sorts of things, the most prominent being the bittersweet feeling of playing in my last travel ball tournament. I wanted to go out with a bang no matter the outcome,” she said. “I was feeling good pitching wise. My rise ball was working the best and my changeup had come along to help me which was nice.” While Sydney has been solid in the circle this summer it was all about the team and the one season she was able to spend with this special group in the end. “Fitting in with this team was easy because my teammates made it that way. From day one they were so accepting of me even though I only had this one year. I’m so grateful I got the chance to experience a team and a season like this. I learned so many valuable lessons from the coaches and my teammates. Firecrackers 4 ever!”
UC Santa Barbara is getting a steal when Jazzy Santos arrives on campus this fall. The future Gaucho concluded her two years with Firecrackers Rico just as she started it by producing in big moments and playing an exceptional second base defensively this summer. Jazzy, batting in the two spot of the batting order, was the perfect complement behind the speed of Emily Jones at the top of the lineup. Whether it was bunting Jones to second or executing a hit and run and moving her over to third Santos was the wheel that moved the offense in 2022. “I really liked batting second behind Emily because I knew she would get on base every time. I knew I could just relax and go out there and play my game,” Jazzy stated when asked what she enjoyed most about batting second. Unselfish, consistent and a team player are just three terms that best describe the fierce competitor that she is. It was evident from her style of play that she took pleasure from seeing the team succeed when it counted the most, and always put herself second behind the team. “This team was really special to play with this summer. My teammates meant a lot to me and pushed me to always compete. We played for each other and I am so grateful for the memories we made.”
It wasn’t a typical year for speedy outfielder and University of San Diego signee Carly Ruiz, who sadly had to sit out with an injury for the entire summer, but her strength and tenacity and love for her team put Carly in a new roll of “Team Manager” for the season. Whether she was helping in warm-ups, keeping score or informing the coaches of situations and strategy during the games, Carly was a steady force in the dugout and source of support and positive energy for the team “I think sitting out my final summer was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my softball career. Watching the seniors play their hearts out one last time for Firecrackers Rico was amazing and I wish I could have done it with them.” Zoe King agreed, “she had our backs for every game and supported us, was a positive energy, and even grabbed our home run balls to get signed by the team.
It was great that she showed up to every game even though she was hurt. I know she wanted to be on the field with us, I felt like her contributions and support helped us go deep in every tournament.” Carly took advantage of her opportunity to sponge everything she could from the coaches. “Sitting next to Tony and absorbing so much information really helped me understand a lot more of the mental game. Although I wish I could have played, I’m grateful for the experience that I had. The Rico team means the absolute world to me. The love that the girls had for each other is unlike any team I have ever played on. These girls are my sisters, and I will forever support them in any adventure they take on in life. I can’t wait to see how they change the world!”
The end has come for all of us senior parents as well. Personally my family has been involved with travel softball for the last fourteen years so saying good-bye has been extra difficult for us this summer. We have met so many terrific people and have made lifetime friends because of this wonderful sport. We have memories that will last forever. This year was extremely special because of all of the amazing families, players, coaches and team management involved with Firecrackers Rico. As we move on to the next chapter with our daughters heading off to college, just remember it goes by quickly and will be over before you know it. Enjoy every moment! Class of 2022 out.