Firecrackers Rico Alumni 2022 Season Update - Volume VI

Kraig King

Thank goodness for the streaming service ESPN+, which allows us to follow all of our favorite players and teams from across the country anytime we want with the rewatch option. Sure, there is cable and satellite tv with ESPN, Pac-12 Network, SEC Network, Longhorn Network, ACC Network and numerous other apps, but it is ESPN+ that gives us the chance to really watch just about any game in NCAA Softball we choose. (No this isn’t a paid advertisement for ESPN +, but it is an endorsement for sure.) It is through these services where our Firecrackers Rico Alumni are available and displaying their talents for the world to see on fields around America. It is that time again to see who stood out and how they did on whichever network you chose.

Alyssa Garcia - UCLA

We head over to Westwood and start off with the red-hot UCLA Bruins and redshirt sophomore catcher Alyssa Garcia (2018). Over the weekend Garcia blasted her first home run of the season for #2 UCLA during a 3-1 win over visiting Oregon to open the series. The Bruins backstop was 3 for 6 (.500) overall against the Ducks, helping lead UCLA to the sweep of Oregon. On the season the Bruins are 31-3, 9-0 in the Pac-12 and winners of 24 straight games. The 9-0 start in conference play is the best in school history. Pitching and defense are a big reason for the Bruins success and Garcia has been extremely solid behind the plate receiving pitches from a talented staff.

Firecrackers Softball: The pitching has been outstanding this season. How much fun are you having catching this staff, and can you explain why they are so difficult to hit?

Alyssa Garcia: This bullpen is special. Everyone pushes each other to be their best and we are all working together to reach a bigger goal. Their determination for excellence is truly inspiring and refreshing. Megan (Faraimo), Holly (Azevedo), Lauren (Shaw) and Lexi (Sosa) are all effective because of their work ethic and how much they pay attention to detail in the bullpen.

Firecrackers Softball: Catchers are the unsung heroes of softball and never get enough credit. Who has been the biggest influence on your style of play behind the dish and when and why did you become a catcher?

Alyssa Garcia: My dad has been my biggest influence on my style of play behind the dish, and he has taught me everything I know. I have also always admired Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals) and how great his framework is behind the plate. I started to catch when I was thirteen and fell in love with the concept of game calling, framing and seeing the game from a different perspective.

Firecrackers Softball: What is it like getting to play for Kelly Inouye-Perez and Lisa Fernandez two legends at UCLA?

Alyssa Garcia: Coach I and Coach Lisa are amazing coaches, and I am so blessed to learn every day from the two of them. Coach Lisa is inspiring because of her level of expectations for us. She holds us at a high standard and pushes us to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Once you think you’ve hit your own standard she pushes you a bit more to expand your limits She is an absolute definition of never being fully satisfied and to get 1 % better each day.

Mary Iakopo - Texas

Super-senior Mary Iakopo (2017) continues to smash the ball down in Austin, Texas for the surging Texas Longhorns. The 5-10 catcher from Los Alamitos High School was 6 for 11 (.545) with two homeruns and seven RBI helping lead Texas to a three-game sweep at home over Iowa State and was named the BIG XII Softball Player of the Week. Despite a mid-week loss to Louisiana in extra innings the Longhorns have won 18 out of their last 20 (18-1-1), improving their overall record to 29-10-1 and 6-0 in the BIG XII. It is no coincidence the Longhorns starting winning games when Iakopo started hitting and getting on base. For the season Mary has a .349 average with eight homeruns, 34 RBI, 18 walks, and 31 runs scored in 39 starts split between catcher and first base for the Horns.

Firecrackers Softball: Things have continued to go well since we last spoke. The team has been nearly unstoppable and has found a nice groove and you were just named the BIG XII Player of the Week. What do you feel has been the biggest difference since the early season struggles the team went through?

Mary Iakopo: We as a team have just figured out how to thrive under pressure. We found out early what it was like to be punched and we’ve figured out how to punch back together.

Firecrackers Softball: Would you rather throw out a base runner trying to steal a base or hit a homerun and why?

Mary Iakopo: I’d like to throw in “pick off runners at any base” as my alternative choice. It gives the element of surprise to runners and usually prevents them from taking big leads. It also takes some pressure off our pitchers and defense when there is one less runner on base.

Firecrackers Softball: Do you have a favorite place in the BIG XII you are looking forward to playing at one last time? Tell us why you enjoy playing there.

Mary Iakopo: The BIG XII tournament is held in Oklahoma City and it is the place I look forward to playing at this season. I haven’t made it back to the World Series since my freshman year, so it gives a nice refresher, a level of comfort and motivation to get back there when it truly matters.

Other Notable Performances

  • Stop me if you have heard this before but Grace Lyons and Oklahoma keep hitting homeruns and winning games in Norman, Oklahoma. Lyons (2018) finished last week with four homeruns (Three in one game versus Wichita State which we discussed last week) 10 RBI and a .600 average (6 for 10) for Oklahoma during a 3-0 week for the #1 ranked Sooners. The numbers just keep piling up and it doesn’t appear they will be slowing down anytime soon. Lyons batting average stands at .425 with 13 homeruns, 37 RBI and 38 runs scored for unbeaten (32-0) Oklahoma.
  • Down south at San Diego State freshman Bella Espinoza (2021) continues to amaze and get on base for the Aztecs. Espinoza had six hits in nine at bats (.666) as San Diego State swept visiting Nevada to improve their season record to 25-10, and 9-0 in the Mountain West Conference.