NOTE: At 1130 NPF has not reported on the final but readers tell Spy that the Bandits won 2-1.
TUSCALOOSA, AL (August 22, 2016) – The Chicago Bandits never back down from a fight, so when the second game of the NPF Championship Series turned into a slugfest on Monday night. they were in their element.
On the verge of elimination from the best-of-three Cowles Cup series with the USSSA Pride, Chicago banged out an 11-5 victory at Rhoads Stadium to force a winner-take-all game set for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT.
A crowd of 881 – driving the record total attendance for the event to 6,951 and virtually assuring a final tally of more than 7,000 after the final game – was on hand to see the Bandits show their fight to stay alive.
It wasn’t the kind of game anyone expected, but when Chicago catcher Taylor Edwards hit a solo home run to right-center field in the bottom of the third inning, it was like igniting a powder keg.
A game that had been shaping up as a pitchers’ duel opened up to become a shootout between two teams that suddenly looked like they were taking batting practice. In all, the teams combined for 24 hits, including three home runs, a triple and a double.
The Pride (40-14) took the lead in the top of the fourth. NPF Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman, hobbled by a calf injury and playing with a brace on her right leg, got it started with her first hit of the tournament, a single to left field. Kirsti Merritt replaced her as a pinch runner, advanced on a single and a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch. Catcher Chelsea Goodacre singled in another run to make it 2-1.
And it was only the beginning.
Chicago (25-27) responded with five runs in the bottom of the fourth, with third baseman Jill Barrett hitting her first home run of the year, a three-run shot, to go up 6-2.
“I thought we were going to have to scratch about three runs across,” Chicago coach Mike Steuerwald said. “That really sparked us.”
Barrett had hit her first batting-practice homer earlier in the week.
“I didn’t want to show them everything I had at the beginning (of the season),” she joked. “I was really just trying to move the runners over.
The Pride came back with three runs of its own in the top of the fifth, with Goodacre hitting a two-RBI single, to narrow the margin to 6-5, but Chicago wasn’t done. The Bandits plated three runs in the bottom of the inning, with first baseman Megan Blank tripling in a run and scoring on a Brenna Moss single.
“I think we all knew it was going to be tough,” Kretschman said. “They had pretty much battled us for all the year. They battle every inning. It doesn’t really surprise me that our rivalry continues.”
There was still more to come from the Bandits.
Outfielder Brittany Cervantes, the most consistent Chicago hitter in the tournament, crushed a three-run shot to left field in the sixth to up the lead to 11-5. She enters the final game 8-of-15 for the playoffs.
Left-hander Michelle Gascoigne (6-5) allowed five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings for the win. Shelby Turnier threw 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits with two strikeouts and no walks, for her first save.
Chicago Bandits trump former ace but fall to USSSA Pride in NPF championship series opener
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The USSSA Pride are one win from earning a third National Pro Fastpitch championship in the past four seasons. But if the league’s signature franchise is poised to be the story of the moment Monday at Rhoads Stadium, the story Sunday was the team it beat.
That with a season on the line, the Chicago Bandits can be down but not out.
That was the case when the sport’s greatest pitcher of the moment left for a landmark free-agent offer this spring. Monica Abbott, who became the sport’s first million-dollar player by signing a five-year contract with the Houston-area Scrap Yard Dawgs, brought an era to an end in Chicago with her exit. The road outside their softball-only stadium is named for former Bandits ace Jennie Finch, but it’s Abbott who led the team to its greatest glory.
Yet her departure didn’t end her former team.
With a place in Sunday night’s championship series opener on the line in an elimination game, and Abbott starting for the opposition for the third day in a row, the third-seeded Bandits collectively outdueled their former ace and her second-seeded teammates for a 2-1 win.
That meant their season lives on even after a 3-1 loss against the Pride later in the day, the first game of a best-of-three championship round.
“The thing I love about this group is there’s not an excuse,” Bandits coach Michael Steuerwald said. “We lost Monica. So what? We lost [other key veterans]. So what? We’re young, we start a lot of rookies some days. So what? We’re starting a [former Division II pitcher] today. So what?
“There’s never really an excuse for this group.”
Inclement weather in the Tuscaloosa area a day earlier forced changes to the schedule. Neither finalist in the championship series had been decided when the day began. The Pride played first and beat the Akron Racers 6-2 to sweep that best-of-three semifinal series. That left the Bandits and Dawgs to play a winner-take-all game after splitting the first two games of their series.
The Dawgs started Abbott, whose 19 wins in her first season with the expansion franchise at least equaled the win total of any two other pitchers in the league in the regular season. The Bandits countered with Angel Bunner, a veteran who had one win in the regular season, and then rookie Shelby Turnier.
The Bandits have long been the Pride’s foil in the league — this will be their sixth meeting for the championship in the past seven seasons — in part because they had Abbott but also because owner Bill Sokolis and general manager Aaron Moore were able to identify underrated talent and retain many of those players in a league that is often transient. Players like Brittany Cervantes, in her fifth season, and Danielle Zymkowitz, in her sixth. So it was that the Bandits played Sunday like a team that got used to winning when Abbott was around, not a team afraid it wouldn’t be able to win without her.
Scrap Yard was a remarkable success as an expansion team. It will contend for titles with Abbott around. But as its players lamented, it couldn’t catch a break on Sunday. Those all seemed to go to the Bandits. And that’s nothing new.
“I feel like I was such a ringleader in that group at some point for some of those things,” Abbott said. “And now they’re doing it against me. It was a little bit like déjà vu and ironic.”
Abbott suggested that Cervantes played with a chip on her shoulder. It wasn’t a slight, instead sounding more like a compliment. And Cervantes agreed with the characterization. So many hitters are defeated before they even step into the batter’s box against Abbott. And to be sure, most Bandits left the box without much success. But from the opening inning, when Chicago’s Taylor Edwards hit a sharp double, Cervantes walked, Amanda Kamekona beat out a dribbler of an infield single and Zymkowitz drove in Edwards with a grounder to the right side, the Bandits weren’t intimidated.
“I think we came into the series knowing who we were going to face the entire time,” Cervantes said. “I played with her for four years, some people for five. So we kind of knew certain things. We tried to just attack early and set the tone from the first inning.”
Two innings later, Zymkowitz lined a triple over a drawn-in outfield to drive in the second run.
And right down to a seventh inning in which they essentially had to come up with five outs, the Bandits were given chances to falter. After the Pride’s Emilee Koerner led off the final frame with a single, the Bandits appeared to turn a clinical double play to put themselves on the brink of victory. But the umpire stood at home plate, left arm outstretched to signal that the catcher’s glove had contacted Emily Crane’s bat. Instead of two outs and no runners on base, Turnier faced no outs with two runners on base.
The extended inning, in turn, meant the final two batters to come to the plate were the two the Bandits least wanted to see: Nerissa Myers and Madison Shipman. With two outs, for real, Myers walked to load the bases. But Shipman hit a crisp liner to center for the final out.
“I told this group between games that I couldn’t be more proud of them, the way they fought,” Steuerwald said. “Win or lose, if Shipman gets a base hit and we lose that game, I still would have been just as proud of this group for the way they competed.”
With less than an hour between the end of the game against the Dawgs and the first pitch of the championship series opener, the Bandits couldn’t duplicate their bold opening.
The Bandits stranded two runners in the top of the first inning. Then the Pride’s Megan Wiggins, in many ways the primary pot stirrer in the rivalry between the two franchises when she played for the Bandits, hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the first. Chelsea Goodacre followed with a solo home run an inning later to double the lead.
Bandits starter Morgan Foley, who only months ago was pitching to NCAA Division II hitters for the University of Indianapolis, didn’t fold in a high-pressure spot. The rookie even struck out league MVP Kelly Kretschman twice, but Lauren Chamberlain’s RBI single made it 3-0 in the third inning. Chicago’s Kristen Brown pulled one run back on with a home run in the fifth inning off Pride starter Keilani Ricketts, but Ricketts and Jordan Taylor completed the pitching task.
The Pride have their own story to tell of stepping up when many expected a step back. With the ageless Kretschman in the lineup but without the contributions of former Olympians like Cat Osterman, Natasha Watley and Andrea Duran, the Pride entrusted their success to a new generation.
They then cruised to the best record in the regular season and are now poised to complete a dominant season, one in which they lead the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, fewest errors, ERA and pitching strikeouts.
What stands between them, as it so often has before, is a rival.
Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999
TUSCALOOSA, AL (August 21, 2016) – Whatever chance the Akron Racers had of knocking off the top-seeded USSSA Pride in the semifinal round of the NPF Championship Series dissipated in a long sixth inning Sunday at Rhoads Stadium. A quartet of Akron pitchers threw a total of 56 pitches in the inning as the Pride batted around in a revolving-door attack to score four runs on the way to a 6-2 victory.
USSSA Pride (39-13) eliminated Akron and advanced to the best-of-three championship round.
The Pride defeated the Racers 3-0 on Friday in their first semifinal meeting. Winning pitcher Jolene Henderson got an early lead and then the late outburst of support. “Regardless of if it’s early or late, I know it’s going to come because we have such good hitters,” she said.
The Pride took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. NPF Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman drew a walk, as did Lauren Chamberlain. Kretschman scored on catcher Chelsea Goodacre’s single to left field, and Chamberlain came home on an error. Had it not been for the USSSA Pride’s relentless top of the sixth, Akron might have tied the game on first baseman Sam Fischer’s home run to left field in the bottom of that inning. As it happened, however, the Pride had already taken an insurmountable lead. Center fielder Megan Wiggins started the bottom of the sixth off with a solo home run that stayed just inside the right field pole to make it 3-0, chasing Akron starter Sarah Pauly.
But that was only the beginning. Reliever Aimee Creger walked the next two batters and was replaced by Laura Winter, who promptly walked Chamberlain to load the bases. Hallie Wilson and Sierra Romero hit back-to-back RBI singles and Haylie McCleney drove in another run on a sacrifice fly to make it 6-0. After another single, Jailyn Ford came out of the bullpen to finally record the third out and stop the bleeding.
It was typical USSSA Pride softball, with a lineup full of collegiate All-Americans coming at pitchers in waves. “I think it’s one of those things where we kind of feed off each other,” Romero said. “We call it handing the bat back.” For Akron, it was like a never-ending inning. “I think our team was battling and our pitchers were doing all they could do at the time,” center fielder Taylor Schlopy said. “We were just trying to get the third out so we could get back up and score.”
Akron warmed up to play three times on Saturday, but it was called off each time due to weather. “I think we were in it the whole time,” third baseman Kelley Montalvo said. “Yesterday was all the delays and everything, but I don’t think that affected us at all. We came ready to play.”
Winning pitcher Jolene Henderson (10-3) cruised through five innings, scattering three hits with one walk and three strikeouts for the win. Pauly (7-7) took the loss. Fourth-seeded Akron finished with a 22-30 record.
CHICAGO BANDITS at USSSA PRIDE August 21, 2016 – 8:22 PM
Softball and baseball added to Tokyo 2020 Olympic program following IOC approval
Aug. 03, 2016, 2:35 p.m. (ET)
OKLAHOMA CITY – The hopes and dreams of millions of softball athletes across the globe have been answered today as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted today to approve the addition of five new sports to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games the Amateur Softball Association (ASA)/USA Softball announced today. The decision, which comes after the IOC met in Rio de Janeiro, was made possible after the groundbreaking Olympic Agenda 2020, which provides flexibility for the future of the Olympic Movement to encourage innovation in the Olympic program. In addition to softball/baseball, other sports that will be added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing.
“What a truly great day for the sports of softball and baseball,” said ASA/USA Softball Executive Director Craig Cress. “For softball and baseball to be added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games program is a dream come true for many athletes across the world. USA Softball is proud to be the National Governing Body for the sport of softball and will continue to work diligently every day to promote our great sport of softball on the world stage.”
Softball and baseball’s global reach, loyal fan-base and positioning across many of the biggest sports markets, including Japan, offers a unique opportunity to further spread and elevate the Olympic brand. The decision today further highlights the growing global appeal of the two sports, particularly among young people and women. In Japan, softball/baseball have remained atop the landscape and a central part of the culture for more than 70 years. Other factors considered in the sports package include the impact on gender equality, the youth appeal of the sports and the legacy value of adding them to the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Softball spent four “quads” as an Olympic sport debuting in the 1996 Atlanta Games with the final Olympic softball competitions taking place in Beijing in 2008. Softball and baseball were ousted from the 2012 Olympics following a vote from the IOC in 2005 in which softball, needing a simple majority of votes (53), received just 52. Despite its exclusion from the Olympics for the past eight years, international softball has become increasingly competitive as a record 30 nations competed in last month’s 2016 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Women’s World Championship in Surrey, B.C., Canada and a record-breaking 12 nations competed at the World Cup of Softball XI in Oklahoma City, Okla. This was also highly showcased during the USA vs Japan All-Star Series in Tokyo and Sendai, Japan, where members of the USA Softball Women’s National Team squared off against Japan in a three-game series. A record-breaking 31,448 fans attended Stage One of the series at the Tokyo Dome, while an additional 3,000 fans attended the final two stages at Shellcom Sendai.
“Thank you to the IOC and the WBSC for this tremendous honor for not only our sport, but our athletes and the millions of young girls who dream of one day being an Olympian,” said USA Softball Women’s National Team athlete Janie Takeda (Placentia, Calif.). “This means so much to not only our USA Softball Women’s National Team program, but to millions of girls across the world. Even if I’m not there, knowing that softball athletes will get to compete on the highest stage against the best competition in the world is amazing.”
In four Olympic Games appearances, the USA Softball Women’s National Team claimed three Gold Medals and one Silver Medal finish while setting numerous international records and are one of only two women’s sports involved in the Olympic movement to capture three-consecutive Gold Medals. In 2012, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lisa Fernandez and the 2004 U.S. Olympic Softball Team were honored for their accolades with induction into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. Members of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Softball Team set 18 Olympic records in Athens. Among the team records set were the most hits (73), highest team batting average (.343) and highest slugging percentage (.559). Fernandez set the individual record for batting average with .545 while Crystl Bustos’ 10 RBI and five home runs were also records.
This decision comes just 10 days after the USA Softball Women’s National Team claimed their first WBSC Women’s World Championship title since 2010 after defeating Japan 7-3 in the Gold Medal finale. As a team, the U.S. finished the 2016 WBSC Women’s World Championship with a .436 team batting average, 19 home runs, 80 RBI and outscored opponents 83-10. The pitching staff was lights out, allowing just eight earned runs for a 1.19 ERA.
SPY note: The WSJ says the inclusion for 2020 is not binding on future Olympiads. IOC has 28 permanent venues, and sports like baseball/softball will have to br added as new Olympiads are proposed.
McKinney, TX (July 29, 2016) – For the second straight day, the Dallas Charge dropped a double header to the USSSA Pride, losing Friday 3-0 and 5-2.
Like Thursday, game one was short on offense, all the scoring coming in the sixth inning for the Pride. A Lauren Chamberlain triple, sacrifice fly and back-to-back homers from Lauren Sweet and Kirsti Merritt accounted for all three runs of the ballgame.
Morgan Melloh got the start and the loss for the Charge, going five and two-thirds innings. Melloh allowed three runs on five hits, while striking out four and walking the same number.
Keilani Ricketts went the first five and one-third innings. Ricketts left the game without giving up any runs. She fanned five and walked only one. Jordan Taylor came on in relief and got the win for the Pride, finishing the game with two strikes. She allowed just one hit.
In the nightcap, the Charge used all their available pitching, but Morgan Melloh but couldn’t stop the Pride form pushing five runs across. Chamberlain homered twice in the game.
Australian Vanessa Stokes got the start for Dallas. She went two innings, allowing one run, a solo blast by Chamberlain. Cheridan Hawkins took over in the third inning and lasted just two outs. Hawkins surrendered three runs on two hits and a walk. With two outs, Shelby Pendley walked, followed by Chamberlain’s second bomb of the contest. Goodacre followed up with one of her own to make the score 4-0.
The Charge answered back in the bottom of the third with a single run driven in by Kylee Lahners.
The Pride collected an unearned run in the fourth inning off of Jill Compton to close out their scoring and stretch the advantage to 5-1.
Kaitlyn Richardson delivered a solo homer for the Charge in the fifth, but it was too little and the Charge dropped their fourth game in a row.
Chelsea Thomas picked up the win for the Pride going five and two-thirds innings. The Missouri alum allowed two runs on four hits. She struck out four and walked three. Kelsey Nunley picked up the save.
The Charge fell to 13-25 on the season. The league-leading Pride raised their record to 29-10. The Charge will take on the Akron Racers at home on Sunday afternoon.
LOCATION: The Ballfields at Craig Ranch, McKinney, TX
FINAL SCORE: GM1 Pride 3 Charge 0, GM2 Pride 5 Charge 2
RECORDS: Charge (13-25), Pride (29-10)
NEXT CHARGE GAME: Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 3:30 p.m. CT vs. the Akron Racers at The Ballfields at Craig Ranch
SY Dawgs Sweep Rebellion in Two-Game Series
Myrtle Beach, SC (July 29, 2016) – The Dawgs traveled back to Myrtle Beach, SC at TicketReturn.com Field for game two against the Pennsylvania Rebellion.
After a 3-0 win in last night’s contest against the Rebellion with the help of Monica Abbott in the circle and the hot bats of Amanda Fama and Madison Shipman, the Dawgs looked to take game two from Pennsylvania.
They took no time, scoring in the first inning when Nerissa Myers crushed a gapper to left center field scoring Breja’e Washington, who reached base earlier on a bunt (1-0). Madison Shipman continued to stay hot at the plate with a two-run homer to center field, putting two more runs on the board for the Dawgs (3-0).
In a scoreless second and third, the Dawgs held down the defense with 1-2-3 innings, shutting down the Rebellion offense. Fama recorded five of the six outs at third base in the two innings.
The Rebellion fought back in the bottom of the fourth when Alisa Goler hit a single up the middle to reach first, followed by a rocket from Alexa Peterson, which would result in a double and put Goler on third with one out. The bases were loaded for the Rebellion when catcher Mandy Ogle took a pitch to the arm. Cheyenne Cordes stepped into the box and, with a sacrifice fly ball to left fielder Kiki Stokes, took out number two, but the ball was hit deep enough to allow Goler to tag up and score (3-1). Pitcher Rachel Fox got Whitney Arion to pop up to Myers to end the side and stop the damage.
The Dawgs put another run on the board after three scoreless innings from a single up the middle by Myers, her second hit of the night to score K. Stokes from second, who also reached on a base hit through the middle. Madison Shipman could not be stopped tonight as she hit her second bomb to put the Dawgs ahead 7-1 with two outs in the top of the fifth. Shipman’s homer brought in a pitching change for the Rebellion. Entering the circle would be Michigan Alumni Haylie Wagner. Fama kept the Dawgs’ momentum rolling with a single to the left side. Pinch hitter Lee Ann Spivey was just short of poking one over the head of shortstop Whitney Arion.
Upon returning after being away with the Netherlands team, Britt Vonk stepped into the box for the Dawgs in the top of the sixth and smacked one down the first base line, but it was just snagged by Goler at first. A walk to Christian Stokes in front of her hometown crowd got their approval with unanimous cheering.
The Dawgs kept the train rolling in the seventh with a solo home-run laced by Nerissa Myers (8-1) in their last bat and shut down the Rebellion offense once again. The Dawgs take game two to earn the sweep against the Rebellion in their two-game series.
The Dawgs will be back in action on July 31th, 2016 at JoAnne Graf Field, home of the Seminole Softball Stadium against the USSSA Pride. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 EDT.