MINNEAPOLIS -- Atlanta entered the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series softball playoffs with a 1-4 record and as the No. 4 seed. After starting as one of the worst teams in the tournament, Atlanta is now the champion.
With an emotionally-charged 4-3 win over Houston on Wednesday, Atlanta claimed the 2013 RBI World Series title -- its eighth in tournament history, and the most of any softball team.
"It feels good. My dad's plan worked," starting pitcher LaKaylin Lee said with a slight giggle.
As the lone pitcher on Atlanta's 10-person roster, Lee didn't pitch until the team's first playoff game on Tuesday, keeping her arm fresh. After three straight starts, Lee needed just three outs in the top of the seventh. She retired the side. Atlanta was champions.
Lee ran into trouble only twice over her final seven innings. In the first, she gave up a leadoff base hit to Caitlin Moerbe, who scored on a Mercedes Mejia triple to right-center two batters later to give Houston a 1-0 lead.
Houston didn't have the lead for long.
Atlanta's Kayla Cato roped a two-run homer over the left-field fence in the bottom of the first, scoring Lee, who led off with a single, to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead.
"That was the icing on the cake there when she hit that," Atlanta head coach Richard Lee said.
Cato struck again in the third, reaching on a throwing error at first with two outs. After taking third on a base hit from Tia Bolden, Cato made it 3-1 when she crossed the plate on a grounder up the middle from Chelsea Hall.
Atlanta took a 4-1 lead in the fourth, as Kendalyn Arceneaux scored on a wild pitch during Lee's at-bat after leading off the inning with a walk.
But things took an emotional turn for Atlanta. As Danika Stevens -- who was courtesy running for Nichole Lyday -- attempted to score on a fielder's choice, she took a tag to the facemask with such force that it caused her to fall hard and bang her head on the ground.
Stevens lay on the ground, rolled over twice and stopped moving as coaches, teammates and trainers went to check on her. After a prolonged break, an ambulance carried Stevens off with concussion symptoms. With only nine active players, Stevens' spot in the lineup became an automatic out, as Atlanta already had a designated hitter and flex player.
"I went back to try and talk to my group, and I shed tears," Richard Lee said. "I couldn't even talk. They said, 'I've got your back, coach, I've got your back.' And I said, 'Let's do this for Danika.'"
And Atlanta did, but not before giving Houston a chance to claim its first championship title.
Trailing by three at the top of the sixth, Moerbe led off for Houston and not only reached safely on an overthrow at first that went all the way to the wall in right field, but she scored on the play to cut Atlanta's lead to 4-2. Lauren Molina followed and reached on another overthrow at first. After stealing second, Molina took home on a Mejia base hit to left.
Lee ended the threat, retiring the next three batters, and the final three in the seventh.
"I felt like we didn't come out to play as hard as we usually do," Houston head coach Rebecca Villarreal said.
"The chance for the championship … it was definitely something unexpected for this team -- this is our first time ever making it to [this] round. Regardless of what happened today, I'm proud of the team, I'm proud of the girls. They worked their butts off this summer."
But after going from one of the worst to first, Atlanta was simply relishing the moment.
"This feels great," Richard Lee said. "The game plan worked. They played super and they played hard."
Kelly Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less