Osterman & Pride Win 2013 NPF Title

Abbott & Bandits Finish Close 2nd in Super-Competitive Playoffs 

By TSC Contributor KAREN KAGE   

ROSEMONT – It was about one of softball’s true superstars—one who had announced her retirement earlier in the year and then rescinded it—coming back to win her third pro title. It was about her rookie teammate, the MVP of this year’s NCAA Women’s College World Series, carrying the team as her backup. It was about a city vindicating itself after last year’s disastrous rainout of the finals.

But most of all the 2013 National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series was about the best fastpitch softball in the world played before a national audience at a superlative facility.

And even the naysayers had to admit that pro softball has finally come of age in America.

After striking out Chicago Bandits’ star and NPF Player of the Year Megan Wiggins to win the championship for the USSSA Pride, there remained little doubt that Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman deserved tournament MVP honors.

Fighting off a nagging arm injury the past few years, Cat announced earlier this season that this would be her last year—then later reversed herself. Her title-winning performance proved she had made the right final decision.

Osterman pitched a complete 5-0 shutout over the Bandits in the second game of the final series, issuing 6 strikeouts and allowing only four hits, to force a deciding game three. She then held off a resurgent Bandits squad during the final two innings of that game in relief, squeaking by 2-1 to secure the title.

Cat had also won an earlier 2-1 nail-biter over the tenacious Akron Racers to make it into the final series against the Bandits.

But Cat couldn’t have done it without rookie sensation Keilani Ricketts. The former Oklahoma pitcher started game three and held the Bandits to a single run through five innings. She also contributed a critical RBI single in game two.

Earlier in the year, Ricketts had helped the Sooners win their second NCAA championship with a finals victory over Tennessee. She joined the USSSA Pride late in the summer after a contract dispute with USA Softball.

Despite its reputation as a perennial powerhouse due to a roster replete with ex-Olympians—far more than any other team in the league—it was only the Pride’s second NPF championship, the other coming in 2010.

The loss was heartbreaking for the Chicago Bandits, as they came within a single run of the brass ring in front of a packed crowd on their home turf. Chicago was looking to win its third NPF championship, having won previously in 2008 and 2011.

In addition to exciting action on the field, the tournament was made all the more impressive by the outstanding Ballpark at Rosemont itself, a world-class stadium designed specifically for the game of softball. Attendance was excellent throughout the series and was near capacity for the finals, despite the addition of extra seating.

Last year torrential rains forced cancellation of the finals and, amidst controversy, no champion was ever chosen. This year the weather was outstanding. Although dark clouds and rain greeted fans the morning of day one—leading to thoughts of “here we go again”—the skies cleared before the first pitch and Mother Nature was kind for the rest of the three-day event; temperatures hovered pleasantly in the low-to-mid 80’s with sunny skies and a slight breeze.

Those who couldn’t make it to the ballpark could catch the final two games on ESPN2—game two was broadcast live and game three was broadcast on a delayed basis the following day.

The NPF continues to evolve. As its marquee crew of ex-Olympians moves into retirement age, new stars like Ricketts will need to move into their cleats. This year the NPF included players from Japan—a country that loves its softball and, as the 2008 Olympics proved, excels at it.

Next season will undoubtedly hold new surprises; for one, the 2014 Championship Series will not be held in Rosemont, although a new venue has yet to be determined.

Despite constant challenges including an uncertain economy, a few things are clear: the NPF is competitive, the NPF is exciting, the NPF works. Read more.


Chicago Wins 2013 NPF Regular Season Crown

Monica Abbott Triumphs, Bandits Now Favored in Playoffs 

By TSC Contributor KAREN KAGE   

ROSEMONT – In the history of the National Pro Fastpitch league there had never been so much at stake going into the last series of the regular season. Due to a revamping of the playoff format this year, the team with the best win-loss record gets a free pass to the playoff finals. Not a bad incentive if, as most teams do, you have a single star pitcher who can carry the day if she’s rested.

From the first few weeks in June it became apparent only two teams had a shot at that privilege: the Chicago Bandits and USSSA Florida Pride. And sure enough—like a good Hollywood script—both teams were red-hot (each winning 8 of its last 10 games) and running neck-and-neck with only a single head-to-head series remaining in the season.

The Pride had the bigger mountain to climb, having to win three of the last four games on the Bandits’ home turf. But after the Pride’s ace Cat Osterman stole the first game 3-2 over fellow Olympic teammate Monica Abbott, it looked like it might happen.

But the Bandits’ offense stormed right back in game #2, plating five runs on three hits in the second inning en route to an 8-0 blanking of the Pride.

Game #3 featured an extraordinary matchup between two rookie pitchers fresh off a national collegiate championship: former University of Oklahoma teammates Keilani Ricketts for the Pride and Michelle Gascoigne for the Bandits. The magnitude of the contest did not go unnoticed by the fans, as the Ballpark at Rosemont was sold-out for the first time in its history.

Ricketts won the game in convincing fashion 4-1, allowing only four hits and one run, to push back the decision for best record to a final Game #4.

Setting the stage for this epic encounter, the legendary Jennie Finch threw out the first pitch before another sold-out crowd. Abbott and Osterman would again face each other in this final showdown.

Abbott appeared relaxed and almost playful before the game, whereas Osterman was somber and all business.

The Pride jumped out to an early one run lead in the second inning after Kristyn Sandberg’s line-drive homerun to right-center field. But the Bandits staged a comeback rally in the fourth inning that put them ahead for good. Amber Patton’s single brought home pinch runner Danielle Zymkowitz to tie the game, and Vicky Galindo hit the go-ahead single to bring home Patton.

After striking out two batters in the seventh, Abbott got a popup to end the game. When she realized what had happened, she suddenly dropped to her knees like a rag doll from the strain of the game—both mental and physical. A battery of welcome hugs followed from her teammates.

In the battle of superstar pitchers, Abbott had clearly won this round. Monica recorded eight strikeouts to Cat’s five, allowed three hits to Cat’s six, and allowed one run to Cat’s three.

Although the Chicago Bandits now hold a huge advantage heading into the playoffs, the reality is that they had split their final series evenly 2-2 with the USSSA Pride, and each of their superstar pitchers had won one game apiece. The bottom line is the playoffs are still up for grabs! Read more.


Bandits & Pride Race to NPF Finish

Chicago & Florida Neck-and-Neck Approaching 2013 Pro Finale 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE 
KISSIMMEE – As the National Pro Fastpitch league enters its final month of the regular season, the Chicago Bandits and USSSA Florida Pride are running away from the rest of the field and look like a lock to square off for the NPF title. Right now the two teams are running neck-and-neck in the standings, with the Bandits up by just one-and-a-half games.

The two teams are scheduled to face off in the last series of the season, which will undoubtedly decide the winner of the Regular Season Championship as well as the #1 seed for the playoffs.

So which team appears to have the upper hand so far? The Pride won its most recent four-game series with the Bandits, which wrapped up just yesterday, three games to one.

But keep in mind Chicago's ace Monica Abbott only started one game of the series, a game that Chicago won handily 6-1. In that game Abbott threw a complete seven-inning game, striking out eight Pride batters.

Abbott has proven to be an extremely durable athlete, and will undoubtedly see more than her share of action in the playoffs.

For the Pride's part, it knows its own ace Cat Osterman will not go down without a fight. Cat is set to retire at the end of this season, and a third championship would be the perfect finale for this superstar.

Currently Abbott and Osterman are tied with identical 13-2 records.

Last year fans were denied a showdown between these two titans after torential rains cancelled the finals. This year, however, the NPF has factored in rain date so, barring injury, the show should go on.

Get ready for an incredible finish to the 2013 NPF season! Read more.


Barnburner Finale to Pro Season

USSSA Pride & Chicago Bandits Clash for Regular Season Pro Crown 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN   

ROSEMONT – The 2013 NPF Regular Season Championship is going to come down to the wire!  The Bandits and Pride both have a legitimate shot at claiming the crown.   

Currently the Bandits are 34-10 and the Pride are 32-12.  The Bandits and Pride are about to play a 4-game series in Chicago to close out the season.  Both teams are red hot with 8-2 records heading into this final series.  All the Bandits need to do is split the games 2-2 to win the title, while the Pride need to outright win and take 3 out of 4 games to win it.   

Each team relies heavily on their ace pitcher to win ball games.  The Bandits need innings from Monica Abbott and the Pride need innings from Cat Osterman.  But the timing of this series in such close proximity to the Championship Series that this presents an interesting strategy dilemma.  Do you give your starter big innings during this series but risk wearing her down before the playoffs (which start two weekends from now Aug 23-24)?   

The Bandits, in effect, get home field advantage anyway because the Championship Series is in Chicago, so they have very little to play for in this last series except for...PRIDE (ba dum ching).  Cat has also had some injury and fatigue issues the past few seasons, so maybe giving her some rest before the final series is a good idea.   

Either way I cannot wait to see how the games turn out.  These last few games of the season are always packed in Chicago, so there should be some great energy in the ballpark. Read more.


NPF makes a Big Impact with the Comets

Pro Softball Returns to the Big Apple 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE 
NASHVILLE – What goes around comes around. It’s been seven long years since the National Pro Fastpitch league fielded a team in the New York area in the Juggernauts, and three years since any NPF team has played in the Northeast period, but the league has come full circle with the announcement of its new franchise centered in the New York/New Jersey area: the Comets.

The NY/NJ Comets will be headquartered in Bridgewater, New Jersey and will play games in New Jersey and New York, with a two game outreach series in Pennsylvania. Planned venues include Provident Bank Park, Yogi Berra Stadium, TD Bank Park and Coca-Cola Park.

The Comets aren’t so much a new team as rebranding of an existing team—the Carolina Diamonds—that closed up shop at the conclusion of the 2012 championship season. This repackaging is similar to what happened one year earlier when the league moved the same team from Florida to the Carolinas under new management.

Specifically, the Comets have been granted rights to expiring contracts for players who were on the roster of the former Carolina Diamonds in 2012 and will assume the Diamond’s vacated spot in each round of the upcoming 2013 player draft.

If any team lives up to its name, this one does: in its nine-year existence it has made over one complete “orbit” around the United States. The group began its epic journey in Texas as the Thunder in 2004 (as one of the NPF’s six founding franchises; only one other remains), then moved to Illinois (two locations), became the Diamonds in Tennessee (two locations), and then moved to Florida.

The squad has gone through many owners in its travels, but the NPF cannot let it die since it believes, and perhaps rightly so, that the league needs at least four teams to survive.

The New York/New Jersey area has played host to one previous pro softball team, the Juggernauts, back in 2004.  The Juggernauts were one of the original six founding NPF franchises (in fact it won the inaugural NPF Championship) but only lasted two seasons.

Other Northeastern teams haven't fared much better: the Connecticut Brakettes lasted only one season (before returning to exclusively amateur status), the Washington Glory two, the Philadelphia Force four and the New England Riptide five.

Only time will tell if the Comets finally hit a home run in the Big Apple. But after an almost decade-long transcontinental journey and three name changes, the team is certainly a survivor. And gaining a foothold—no matter how tenuous—in America's largest metropolitan market can only help the NPF.  Start spreading the news! Read more.

More Articles...