Burkhart Bouncing Back

Pro Pitcher Katie Burkhart is Returning to Top Form in Carolina

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – I was thrilled at the beginning of the 2012 National Pro Fastpitch season to see that former ASU Sun Devil and 2008 NCAA champion Katie Burkhart had returned to the NPF after an extended absence.

In 2008 Burkhart was the #1 overall NPF draft pick and went to play for the Philadelphia Force. That year was a magical one for Burkhart at the pro level: she was the 2008 NPF Rookie of the Year after tossing 131 innings and earning a 13-5 record, 149 strikeouts and 1.88 ERA. She led the league in wins and placed second in ERA and third in strikeouts.

But, to the amazement of NPF fans all over the nation, in 2009 Burkhart walked away from the game.

Early on in her 2012 comeback campaign season—this time with the league's ragtag Carolina Diamonds—I was disappointed to see that through the first few games Burkhart did not look like the same pitcher from 2008. Through the first 12 games of the season she had pitched 34 innings and had a 2-4 record with 34 strikeouts, 21 earned runs and a 4.28 ERA.

But Burkhart is starting to rebound. After 63 innings she is now 5-5 with 72 strikeouts and a 3.43 ERA. She has shaved over one full run from her ERA and her strikeout numbers are climbing.

Burkhart is currently ranked third in the league in wins, second in the league in strikeouts and fifth in the league in ERA. She is even leading Osterman in strike outs! (Osterman has 68).

It's so exciting to see Burkhart return to form and once again become the elite pitcher we knew she could be. Way to go!
 Read more.


Bandits & Pride Dominate Early Pro Season

Cat Osterman Keeping Pride on Bandits' Heels

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – As the NPF enters the last week in June, the defending champion Chicago Bandits sit atop the field of four with an impressive 9-3 record and show no sign of slowing down soon. Infielder Alisa Goler has been a standout, earning NPF Offensive Player of the Week honors this past week.

The USSSA Pride is close behind at 8-4, riding a four-game winning streak—in part because its ace Cat Osterman is pitching lights out right now.

Though there was a lot of speculation that her playing days might be behind her because of a nagging arm injury, right now she looks like the phenomenal pitcher we remember. So far this season Cat has pitched 19 innings with a 2-1 record, 30 strikeouts, 4 earned runs, and a 1.47 ERA.

There are, however, two other pitchers on the Pride who have logged more innings than Cat: Danielle Lawrie and Brittany Mack. So it looks like Cat's innings are being limited and they are sharing the circle more with other pitchers on the staff.

Cat's arm injuries affected her later in the season and in the playoffs, so limiting her regular season innings might be a great way to keep her sharp and injury-free for the postseason.

Outfielder Caitlin Lowe has also been playing outstanding ball for the Pride, picking up NPF Defensive Player of the Week this past week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season so far is Akron. Sporting arguably the best fan base in the league, the Racers are not showing enough on both sides of the ball right now to be considered a serious title contender. However, the season is still relatively young—and they have been known to mount late-season comebacks.

Bringing up the rear are the poor Carolina Diamonds.  Through 12 games this season the Diamonds' record is 2-10.  That shouldn’t be a big surprise following last year’s record poor season of 6-32, but it was hoped the move from Florida to Carolina might energize the team. It didn’t.

Being such a sorry team is going to make it hard for the community to really latch on to the team, and for it to become self-supporting.

The Diamonds have pretty decent hitting led by former Bandit slugger Rachel Folden.  Folden is currently hitting .345 with 2 home runs, 10 hits, 5 RBI, and 3 runs. The Diamonds also have two other hitters hitting over .300 with shortstop Kelsi Weseman and GiOnna DiSalvatore.

Unfortunately the Diamonds pitching staff has been abysmal.  The Diamonds two best pitchers, Katie Burkhart and Angel Bunner, have both really struggled.

Through 12 games Burkhart has pitched 34 innings and has a 2-4 record with 34 strikeouts, 21 earned runs and a 4.28 ERA.  During that same period Bunner has an 0-3 record with 11 strikeouts, 17 earned runs and a 4.82 ERA.

The Diamonds have three other pitchers who have pitched a total of 17 innings and have combined 0-3 record, 15 strike outs, 29 earned runs, and an average ERA of 12.60.  Yikes.

Carolina's pitchers are going to need to step up their game if they want to avoid embarrassment in the NPF this year.
 Read more.


California Dreamin'—Pro Style

Once Upon a Time the Golden State had a Professional Fastpitch Team

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

As the National Pro Fastpitch league struggles to capture the imagination of the softball fans across the country, the question often arises: "Why doesn't a fastpitch powerhouse state like California have a team?" Well it did...for a year.

The California Sunbirds (also called the Sacramento Sunbirds) played their first home game on June 1, 2004 against the Arizona Heat in Stockton, California, a town of about 292,000 in California's Central Valley.

Stockton is located 83 miles east, and slightly north, of San Francisco, and 49 miles south of Sacramento. The name may sound familiar to fans of classic western television, as it was the setting of "The Big Valley" TV series starring Richard Long, Barbara Stanwyck and Lee Majors (1965-1969).

The Sunbirds appeared to have everything going for them prior to the start of their first season.

They had procured a 1,200-seat stadium, the United Sports Complexes, and had signed one of the most prolific coaches in Northern California community college history to manage the team, Tim Kiernan.

Kiernan had compiled an amazing 804-114 record during his 16 years as head coach at Sacramento City College, winning three state championships and one national championship in 1992. His win percentage remains as one of the highest in community college softball history.

Kiernan had also coached at every level of ASA travel, amassing over 2600 wins, 17 national tournament appearances and a national championship in 1994. He had also coached for six summers in the Women's Professional Softball League (WPSL), the precursor of the NPF.

According to Sunbirds General Manager Glenn Wolff, "Leadership and respect come with experience and few in this league have the years of coaching experience and the home field advantage of Coach Kiernan. Because a great deal of these women are local products and have played for him in the past, there is already an established bond. For many of the teams, getting adjusted to a new coach as well as style of play is the biggest hurdle. With Kiernan, they know how much they have to work in order to stay in the lineup and what is expected of them."

The Sunbirds also had signed two premier pitchers in Cindy Ball and Amy Kyler.

Cindy Ball was a two-time All-American and Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002 at Pacific. She concluded her college years as the career leader in innings (883.1), wins (91), saves (10), strikeouts (761), shutouts (46) and RBI (111).

Amy Kyler had played two seasons each with the Akron Racers and the Carolina Diamonds of the Women's Pro Fastpitch league (WPF), which later became the WPSL. She was a 1998 WPF All-Star selection and member of the Diamonds team that captured the "first half" WPF title that year.

"We have a diverse group of pitchers this year, some throw hard, some have a lot of movement on their balls, while others have great change-ups," said GM Wolff. "When it comes down to it, there is no doubt in my mind and in the players' that we can be a real threat on the mound and at the plate."

Although the Sunbirds were not listed as an official member of the NPF in 2005, they continued to play games against other teams in the league that year. However, the handwriting was on the wall.

Amy Kyler had been traded to the Akron Racers in the offseason, and the team was not competitive. On June 19th the New England Riptide swept the squad four games to none; in July the team was replaced by the Mexican National Team in a four-game series against the Arizona Heat; and on August 7th the Texas Thunder completed its own four-game sweep of the beleaugered franchise.

It is still something of a mystery why the team folded after only one official season, leaving California without a professional softball team to this day. Read more.


2012 Pro Season Off & Running

Abbott Throws No-Hitter, Rookies Shine During NPF Opening Week

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

LOMBARD – The National Pro Fastpitch league’s 2012 season got off to a flying start last week. Picking up where they left off last year, the defending champion Chicago Bandits bested a tough USSSA Pride squad three games to one in their opening series. Bandits ace Monica Abbott pitched a no-hitter in only her second start of the season, and newcomer Meagan Denny-White led the Bandits to a 5-2 victory in yesterday’s final game.

As expected, the Akron Racers defeated the league’s newest franchise, the Carolina Diamonds, in their opening series—but it was not without drama. The Diamonds surprised the Racers on opening day with a 7-3 victory behind the arms of Katie Burkhart and Angel Brunner, but the Racers took revenge the following day 14-2 and never looked back. Akron bested Carolina 9-2 in yesterday’s final matchup; ex-Bandit Nicole Trimboli blasted a two-run homer to put the Racers up 9-0 in the fourth.

Rookies put on an amazing performance opening week, taking home all of the league’s individual honors.

The first overall pick in this year’s draft, Brittany Mack of the Pride, was named Pitcher of the Week along with Akron Racers draftee Hilliary Bach.

Two former California Golden Bears, Jamia Reid and Valerie Arioto, were named Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week, respectively. The Bears were ranked #1 all season but didn’t make it to the final dance in the Women’s College World Series, so it’s great to see Reid and Arioto continuing to play at a high level in the pro ranks. Reid plays for the Racers and Arioto for the Pride. Read more.


Top Pro Draft Picks 2012

1st Round of This Year's NPF Draft Dominated by Hitters

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

LOMBARD – Here are this year's 1st round NPF draft picks:

(1) USSSA Florida Pride - Brittany Mack
(2) Chicago Bandits - Kimi Pohlman
(3) Akron Racers - Lexy Bennett
(4) USSSA Florida Pride - Andrea Harrison

Until the draft I had never heard of any of these ladies. So who the heck are they?

Brittany Mack: Mack is the ace pitcher for the LSU Tigers. In 2011 she threw for a 20-7 record, 1.74 ERA, 184 innings and 209 strikeouts. In 2012 Mack's numbers are down with a 6-4 record, 2.91 ERA, 55 innings and 69 strikeouts. Mack is not an overwhelming strikeout pitcher like the best fastpitch pitchers, but she does have proven ability and success in one of the toughest softball conferences (the SEC) in the country. I am a little confused by why Mack would be the #1 overall pick when there are other more qualified options out there. Mack must have expressed serious interest in going pro. But the Pride can take a risk at pitcher because they already have a top staff anchored by Cat Osterman and filled out by Danielle Lawrie, Sarah Pauly and
recent acquisition Jamee Juarez.

Kimi Pohlman: Pohlman is a outfielder for the Washington Huskies. In 2011 she hit .432 with 79 hits, 3 home runs, 28 RBI, 57 runs, and 25 stolen bases. Pohlman was a very consistent hitter against top tier pitching in the #1 softball conference in the NCAA. Her numbers prove she has great speed and some power potential. Pohlman will be a great table setter for some of the Bandits' heavy hitters like Alissa Goler and Dorian Shaw.

Lexy Bennett: Bennett is a slugger that plays for the Texas Longhorns. In 2011 she hit .438 with 57 hits, 9 home runs, 41 RBI, 51 runs, .792 slugging percentage and .510 on base percentage. Bennett led her team in batting average, hits, slugging percentage and on base percentage. Bennett is a very consistent hitter with good power and will make a great addition to the other quality bats in Akron's lineup.

Andrea Harrison: Harrison is the top hitter on the current version of the nation's most storied softball team: UCLA. In 2011 Harrison hit .409 with 67 hits, 15 home runs, 52 RBI, 39 runs, a .768 slugging percentage and a .512 on base percentage. In 2011 Harrison won the triple crown on her own team by leading in average, home runs, and RBI. And just for good measure she also led her team in hits, total bases, slugging percentage and on base percentage. Harrison is a machine and could easily wind up as the best hitter to come out of the 2012 draft.

So there you have it! It is interesting that only one pitcher was selected in the 1st round while prior drafts have been very pitcher-heavy early on. It will be fun to see who the next big names will be in the NPF. I'm very excited for the season! Read more.

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