Pro Fall Tour Canvases America

'Back to School Tour' Pits Pros Against Top College Teams 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
LOMBARD – This year’s National Pro Fastpitch “Back to School Tour” officially starts in only six days! The cross country trek featuring some of the NPF's finest going head-to-head against college teams is just what the league needs: some positive publicity to distract fans from the disastrous end to the 2012 season.   

This is the third year of the "Back to School Tour" and by all accounts it has been a tremendous success. The tour has a ready-made audience in the parents of the college players who face off against the pros, plus the softball fans of the school who want to see how their favorite team fares.   

This season the tour has 23 games all over the country. The pros will even face off against St Edwards, the softball team that Cat Osterman helps coach during the offseason. I wonder if Cat will pitch for the pros?   

Team NPF has a combined record of 41-1 on the tour with the lone loss coming from Oklahoma (led by superstar pitcher Keilani Ricketts) last fall.   

The first game is slated for Sunday, September 23rd at 1:00 PM CDT against Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri. Some of the other choice games are:   

10/4 vs Michigan
10/14 vs Washington
10/16 vs Baylor
10/19 vs LSU
10/20 vs LA Lafayette
10/22 vs Florida
10/24 vs Arizona
10/27 vs UCLA
11/1 vs Oklahoma   

Team NPF is scheduled to play some of the best teams in the best conferences in the NCAA during its tour, maybe in your hometown. Don't miss it! Read more.


Rain Washes Out NPF Finals

No Pro Champion Crowned This Year 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE 
ROSEMONT – In a highly controversial move, NPF Commissioner Cheri Kempf has decided NOT to reschedule the remaining game(s) of the NPF Finals (game #2 and the "if necessary" game #3). Because the Finals didn't run to completion, no NPF champion will be crowned.

Game #2 was started yesterday but was washed out due to rain. The league tried valiently to "go on with the show" at 6:00 PM, three and a half hours later than originally scheduled. A few brave fans got to see Bandit pitcher Monica Abbott throw to Pride leadoff hitter Natasha Watley who made contact and was thrown out at first.

The game was immediately halted after that.

Although it was originally thought this would be a temporary delay, everyone in the stands knew the rain was not going to let up. And the umpires were emphatic that as long as it continued to rain, the game would not go on.

The Bandits head coach was also concerned about possible injury to his superstar Monica Abbott who was slipping on the mound. And no wonder: the entire field was shimmering due to standing water.

ESPN2 covered the start of the event but switched to other programming when the game was halted. A banner headline later announced the game was cancelled. Jennie Finch provided great color commentary in her brief time on the air.
Read more.


Pride Wins 2012 NPF Regular Season Championship

Florida Ballclub Rides Wave of Success into Pro Playoffs 

By TSC Contributor KAYLA KNIGHT 

Florida USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch league finished up the regular season much as it started: by overwhelming its opponents. The Orlando-based ballclub ended up with a 31-12 record, the best in the league by a hefty 6.5 games, and built up plenty of momentum for the playoffs by winning nine of its last ten outings. 

How dominating has the Pride been? In the last month it has swept a four-game series with each of the other three teams in the league. If that doesn’t make them a prohibitive favorite for the playoffs—which begin tomorrow in Rosemont, Illinois—nothing does. 

By virtue of its record the Pride lays claim to the 2012 NPF Regular Season Championship, an award it captured last year as well. But in 2011 the Pride stumbled in the playoffs, losing to the underdog Chicago Bandits when ace Cat Osterman went down with an arm injury. 

This year the team vows to make things right. 

The defending champ Bandits—hosting the playoffs for the first time since 2005—will be hard pressed to stop the star-studded squad affectionately known as "Softball's Yankees." Without pitching stalwart Nikki Nemitz—sidelined with a knee injury only two weeks ago—the Bandits will have to rely on ace Monica Abbott to carry the entire weight of the defense. 

Abbott is certainly capable of doing just that. The former Olympian tallied 190 strikeouts this season, shattering the previous NPF record of 172 set by Christa Williams in 2005. 

The 2012 NPF Championship Series begins tomorrow. Unlike the sweltering heat of last year’s playoffs held in Sulphur, Louisiana, the temperatures are forecast to be in the relatively tolerable range of 87-91 degrees with a chance of showers on Friday only. 

The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 26th. Read more.


Bandits on Brink of 2012 Pro Title

Chicago Takes Early Lead over Florida in NPF Playoffs 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE 
ROSEMONT – Maybe there really is something to home field advantage. The Chicago Bandits are playing like gangbusters on their home turf in Rosemont, Illinois this week during the National Pro Fastpitch playoffs, and are only one game away from repeating as champs. 
The Bandits were hardly favored going into the playoffs. Although they finished second in the final regular season standings with a respectable 25-19 record, they were coming off a major tail spin that included a heartbreaking, freak injury to second-string pitcher Nikki Nemitz. 
To make matters worse, it looked like nothing could stop their archrival, the Orlando-based USSSA Pride; the Olympian-laden squad had lost only two of its last 23 games. 
But the Bandits surprised everyone in the semifinals by breezing through the Carolina Diamonds—who had been on a serious comeback of their own—in the first two games 11-0 and 5-1. 
Then the Bandits shocked the seemingly invincible Pride last night 2-1 to take a one game advantage in their best-of-three final series. In a classic pitcher’s duel between two former Olympians, Monica Abbott edged out Cat Osterman for the win. 
Is the Pride on the ropes? Chinks in its armor appeared in game #2 of the semifinals when it gave up six runs in the sixth inning to lose to the last-seeded Akron Racers. 
The Florida team battled back to win the third and deciding game against the Racers 9-7 last night, but speculation had to be circling about the health of Cat Osterman’s arm; she gave up an unfathomable five runs in the first two-thirds of the first inning. Last year it was an injury to Osterman’s throwing arm in the first game of the Finals that derailed the Pride’s title hopes. 
Right now the biggest enemy to both teams is the weather. The Chicagoland area has been socked with rain that threatens to last all day, possibly postponing the final game(s) of the playoffs until tomorrow.
 Read more.


Carolina Diamonds Have a Shot at NPF Title

Can Last Year's Worst Pro Team Finish First? 

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

LOMBARD – I’m going to say something that two months ago would have gotten my blogger license revoked (and still might): the Carolina Diamonds could legitimately win the 2012 NPF title.

After setting the record for futility in 2011 with the worst regular season record in league history—and a 2-10 start this season—the Diamonds are showing signs of life. In their game last night against the defending champion Bandits in Chicago, it was clear one team is riding a wave of confidence right now—and no, it is not the Bandits. The Diamonds won the game 9-5.

The Diamonds currently lie third in the standings, two games ahead of the last-place Racers. And with just three games to go, all against an easier opponent in the Bandits than the Racers have in the Pride, they should end up that way. That means they will play Chicago in the first round of the playoffs—a series they can win. If they do, they will face the USSSA Pride for the title.

Here are six reasons why the “Cinderella” Diamonds could upset the heavily favored Pride in the finals:

1. The Diamonds have a psychological advantage as underdog.

2. The Diamonds are hungry for redemption after their humiliating 2011 season and 2012 start.

3. Even though the Pride has won the Cowles Cup twice in the past five years (in 2010, and in 2007 as the Washington Glory), the Diamonds have also won it recently (in 2009 as the Rockford Thunder).

. The Pride’s superstar pitcher Cat Osterman is suffering from a nagging arm injury that could resurface at any time. Last year, her departure in the playoff finals cost the Pride the championship.

. Even if Osterman goes the distance, the Diamonds finally have a pitcher in Katie Burkhart who can go toe-to-toe with her. Burkhart was Most Valuable Player of the Women’s College World Series and NPF Player of the Year in 2008, her rookie year.  After several years of playing overseas and with the US National Team, Burkhart is now making an impressive comeback on the pro circuit.

. The Diamonds showed a lot of spark in last year’s playoffs, nearly beating the Pride in an overtime barnburner.

The 2012 NPF Championship Series starts next week Thursday at the Bandits’ home stadium in Rosemont, Illinois. Take my word for it, a “Diamond in the Rough” may take home the roses this year! Read more.

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