8/13/2014 11:45 P.M. ET
Pool play of RBI Softball World Series begins
Burse turns in strong start as defending champion Braves beat Harrisburg
By Ryan Cox / Special to MLB.com
SOUTHLAKE, Texas -- Atlanta Braves RBI began their quest to repeat as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Softball World Series champions Wednesday with a matchup against Harrisburg RBI in the first day of pool play games.
With the help of steady hitting throughout the Atlanta lineup and an exceptional pitching performance from Veronica Burse, Braves RBI looks poised to make another deep run after a 5-3 victory to open the RBI World Series tournament.
Burse gave up an infield single to Harrisburg leadoff hitter Vanessa Hoffman, who later scored in the inning on a stolen base and a pair of wild pitches. From there, Burse settled in and shook off the nerves to retire the next 16 Harrisburg hitters.
"Once [Harrisburg] went through their lineup once, I started to get comfortable on the mound and it made it easier to make my pitches," said Burse.
Through the first time down the lineup, the Atlanta offense appeared to feel out of rhythm, too, failing to score any runs. In the top of the third, Atlanta leadoff hitter Lakaylin Lee did what every leadoff hitter should do, and that's get on base to jumpstart the offense. Lee singled to start the third and eventually tied the game at 1 when Tia Bolden's line drive up the middle bounced off the Harrisburg shortstop's glove.
While Burse continued to deliver three up, three down innings for Atlanta, her offense provided her with the run support she needed to put the game away. Braves RBI knocked in a pair of runs in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead and duplicated the results the following inning to further pad the lead. Eight of the nine hitters in the Atlanta lineup reached base on the afternoon, with Lee leading the way going 2-for-4 at the plate with two singles and two runs scored.
Burse's consecutive batters retired streak came to an end with one out in the sixth inning when Harrisburg's Vanessa Hoffman laced a two-strike pitch to center field for a standup triple. Mason's hit was a domino effect for the Harrisburg offense, putting together three straight singles from there and scoring another run to cut the deficit to 5-3.
Labrisha Washington came in to relieve Burse on the mound after 5 1/3 innings, five hits, two earned runs and striking out six. Washington took notes on Burse's performance and ended the Harrisburg comeback attempt with 1 2/3 perfect innings to seal the victory.
Braves RBI knows that as the defending champion, each opponent they face will be out to beat them and they're expecting to see the best from each team they face.
"We feel like we have a target on our back after winning it all last year," said Atlanta Braves RBI head coach Richard Lee. "Teams are going to raise it up to another level to try and play hard against us."
The other six teams participating in the RBI Softball World Series had their first scheduled games Wednesday afternoon, too. Nobu Yamuchi RBI made a strong statement in their opener with an 8-0 rout over Minnesota Twins RBI. RBI Santo Domingo captured their first victory, outslugging Houston Astros RBI, 13-9, and Cleveland RBI squeezed past Hoboken RBI, 3-2, to also move to 1-0 after the first day.
Pool play games will continue Thursday morning with each team playing a doubleheader before the single-elimination tournament begins on Friday. The championship game for the RBI Softball World Series will be held on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. CT at Texas Women's University in Denton.
Ryan Cox is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.