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Slain teammate remains ‘in our hearts’

07/27/2011, 10:46pm PDT
By P.K. Daniel

The Renegades softball team won’t be playing this morning in the Gold National Championship at the Sportsplex in Poway. Instead, girls on the Rancho Peñasquitos squad will be attending the funeral of their slain teammate and her mother.

Inside the Renegades’ dugout at the Sportsplex in Poway hangs the jersey of former teammate Briana Williams, who was a top softball pitcher for the elite travel team.

— The Renegades softball team won’t be playing this morning in the Gold National Championship at the Sportsplex in Poway. Instead, girls on the Rancho Peñasquitos squad will be attending the funeral of their slain teammate and her mother.

The Amateur Softball Association granted the Renegades’ request to reschedule today’s games so they could attend services for their starting pitcher, Briana Williams, 18, and her mother, Donna Williams, 52, a San Diego police detective and team mom. Williams’ 24-year-old son, Brian Rockwell Williams, has been charged with murder in the deaths last week.

ASA postponed all games until after 4 p.m. today, and the Renegades won’t play until 8 tonight in Santee.

“They absolutely did the right thing,” Renegades coach Mike Fox said.

The Renegades, one of 64 teams from across the country and the only one from San Diego, opened the 18-and-under tournament with a tough 5-2 loss Monday to the Houston Power Gold.

“They looked emotionally drained,” Fox said. “They didn’t play the way I know they can play. I could see the emotion in their eyes. There was too much on their minds, too much in their hearts. They weren’t able to go out there, step on the field and play softball.”

The girls held a players-only meeting after the loss and came back Tuesday with a different mindset, staging a five-run rally for an 8-7 come-from-behind win over the Louisiana Voo Doo.

“They weren’t down on themselves,” Renegades coach Don Portugal said. “They never quit and they battled through it. They’ve always been resilient.”

Since their opening loss, the Renegades notched two straight wins, including a 4-3 victory in bracket play vs. the Houston Lethal Weapon on Wednesday morning. They were shut out 4-0 Wednesday night against the Gold Coast Hurricanes at the Sportsplex in Santee.

The girls from Texas presented the Renegades with a bouquet of white roses after Wednesday’s first game.

There have been other demonstrations of support and remembrance. Williams’ No.?25 jersey hangs in the dugout alongside handwritten posters. Her number is inked on the forearms of her teammates and coaches. There’s a decal affixed to the Renegades players’ batting helmets, and there are bag tags and stickers memorializing Williams and her mom. Players are wearing cheetah-print hair ribbons and head bands, representing the teen’s fashionista side.

Williams had just graduated from Mt. Carmel High and was supposed to leave for college in about a month. She had a full scholarship to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study fashion design and play softball.

“I was the blessed one,” Portugal said. “She was going off to college, and I was retiring from coaching.”

Portugal, his voice cracking, said he had coached Williams since she was 9.

“It’s been tough. You coach somebody for nine years and you see them every week,” he said. “She was like a daughter. And Donna was the ultimate parent.”

Before going off to college, Williams was scheduled to play in this tournament.

“This would have been her last time playing with the Renegades,” Fox said.

The girls have made it a point not to focus on winning the tournament for their former teammate. Fox said he didn’t want to put added pressure on the team.

“A lot of people right now are putting pressure on themselves to do better,” said Portugal’s daughter Monique, who had played with Williams since they were 5 in T-ball. “It’s tough not to feel the pressure. It’s probably not the healthiest thing for any of us.”

Said Angie Randazzo, a recent Poway High graduate who competed against Williams at rival Mt. Carmel: “(Bree) was such a big part of our team. We’re not going to dedicate it, but we’re definitely going to keep playing with her in our hearts.”

Williams started playing with the Renegades on their 12U team in 2005. Three of the players on the current roster — Nichole Tampoa Barba, Nina Villanueva and Rachel Peters — were also Mt. Carmel teammates of Williams.

She was a four-year varsity starter, helping the Sundevils win San Diego Section Division II titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Williams was first-team all-league her senior season.

Don Portugal said there is inherent pressure in simply competing against elite travel teams in a tournament like this.

“What we’ve stressed to them is to play for the memory of Bree,” he said. “We’re not putting pressure on them to win the tournament. All we’re asking them to do is to play as hard as they can every game and whatever the results are the results are. But realistically, we’ve lost our best player. We’ve lost the face of our team.”

Villanueva, who is going to be a pallbearer at the service, along with Don Portugal, said the loss has brought the team closer together.

“We’re all there for each other,” she said.

The memorial service is this morning at 10 at Maranatha Chapel, 10752 Coastwood Road, San Diego.

Donations to the family can be sent to the Detective Donna Williams Family Trust, care of San Diego Police Officers Association, 8388 Vickers Street, San Diego, CA 92111.

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