Against All Odds: Chicago Wins 2016 Pro Title

Bandits Steal 2016 NPF Crown from Former Teammate Monica Abbott

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

TUSCALOOSA  No one picked the Chicago Bandits to win the title this year.  I didn't.  You didn't.  No one did.  Most people picked the Scrapyard Dawgs behind #1 superstar pitcher Monica Abbott, and if not them surely the USSSA Pride.  But no one expected the newly Abbott-less Bandits to win.

But win they did!

The Bandits first miracle was to get by Abbott and the Dawgs in a semifinal three-game series.  As you recall, Abbott left the Bandits for the Dawgs after winning the championship last year, securing a record $1 million contract in the process.


There is no doubt about it—Monica Abbott was destroyed in her first playoff game as the ace pitcher for the Dawgs. The Bandits hit back-to-back home runs off Abbott in the first inning and wound up with a devastating 11-2 victory.

But anyone who thought Abbott was finished was gravely mistaken.  She came back with a vengeance in game 2, pitching 4 innings of 1-run 1-hit and 5-strikeout ball en route to a 10-1 Scrapyard Dawgs victory.  Sara Driesenga pitched 1 inning of relief with the Dawgs up 10-1 to secure the victory.

The two playoff games in this series were basically mirror images of each other.  The Bandits mercy-ruled the Dawgs in game 1, and the Dawgs returned the favor in kind versus the Bandits in game 2.

Abbott was backed by a dominating offensive effort which included 10 hits, 10 RBI, and 2 home runs.

The Bandits gave the start to pitcher Michelle Gascoigne who had a day she would probably prefer to forget.  Gascoigne only lasted 3.2 innings and gave up 7 hits and 5 earned runs. 

The Bandits did the impossible in game 3, defeating Abbott and the Dawgs 2-1 to advance to the Championship Series against the USSSA Pride.

Abbott played decently well.  She pitched all 7 innings and struck out 9, but she allowed 6 hits and 2 earned runs.  Unfortunately for the superstar, the Dawg offense was not enough to overcome the 2 runs.

Abbott pitched all 3 games of this series, and pitched pretty well aside from an abysmal performance in game 1.  But after a bounce-back 2nd game, she was edged out in game 3 and now has to live with falling far short of expectations in the first year of her $1 million contract.

The Bandits gave Angel Bunner the start in the circle, but she was pulled in the 3rd inning after giving up a run.  Shelby Turnier finished the final 4.1 innings of the game and pitched a 4-inning shutout while striking out 6.

The Bandits offense got the job donenot with power hitting, but with consistent and timely hitting.  Catcher Taylor Edwards and designated hitter Amanda Kamekona scored the runs to bring home the victory.

In the 3-game Championship Series, the Pride jumped out first with a game 1 win and looked to be in position to lock up the title, but the Bandits came back to win the next two games in a row and do the unthinkable, winning it all despite very long odds.  The Bandits won with a home run from Jill Barrett in game 2 to win 1-0, and won with back-to-back solo shots from Taylor Edwards and Brittany Cervantes to win the decisive final game 2-1. 

Congrats to our 2016 Cowles Cup champion Chicago Bandits!! Read more.



Softball's Olympic Reinstatement Helps NPF

Tokyo Games Will Generate Plenty of New Pro Stars

By TSC Contributor KEVIN KAGE

LOMBARD  The news of softball's reinstatement for the 2020 Tokyo Games has major implications for National Pro Fastpitch (NPF).  Yes, some of the league’s best athletes will have to take time off from their professional career to train for and compete in Tokyo, including missing most, if not all, of the 2020 regular season and Championship Series.

But the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Over the past two years the NPF has made tremendous strides,  expanding from four to six teams, signing its first $1-million dollar contract and securing the best television coverage in its history.  Yet attendance remains lackluster at many of its games.

The sad fact is, the vast majority of Americans are still completely oblivious to the existence of a professional women's softball league in their country.  Yet every one of them has heard about the Olympics.

Most athletes competing in the Games, and especially those fortunate enough to win a medal (and especially gold), become an instant national hero.

The beauty of it is, Olympic softball is both dominated by Americansmaking a gold or silver medal finish almost a certaintyand a team sport.  So we will almost assuredly have 15 new national softball heroes following the gold medal game in 2020.

Many of those heroes will end up playing professionally for the NPF.

And that's just counting the American players.  Several years ago the NPF started adding elete Japanese athletes to its roster; their skill and competitive spirit made them instant crowd favorites.  As host country for the Games and defending softball gold medalists, Japan is sure to generate at least a few more NPF stars.

Only a few members of the 2008 Olympic squad are still active participants in the NPF, and their number will dwindle to zero very shortly.

Remember Jennie Finch?  The 2004 Olympics made her a household name, and that notoriety was a huge factor in launching the NPF.  Unfortunately, Jennie retired six years ago.

The league desperately needs to replenish its supply of heroes.  That starts in 2020.  Read more.



Cat & Pride Repeat as 2014 NPF Champs

This Year's Pride as Dominant as any Team in NPF History

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN & TSC Contributor NINA LIVAS   

HOOVER – The USSSA Pride are the winners of the 2014 NPF Cowles Cup, defeating the Akron Racers 8-3 in Game #2 of the NPF Championship Final Series to take home their second consecutive NPF title.

But it wasn't easy!  The Racers got out an early 2-0 lead after Akron Designated Player Jessica Garcia hit a two-run homer off of Pride starting pitcher Keilani Ricketts.  Ricketts was quickly replaced by veteran Danielle Lawrie.  Lisa Norris pitched for the Racers and put up five very strong innings before the wheels came off.

In the top of the 6th inning the score was tied 2-2 and everyone in attendance was expecting an extra-innings showdown like the night before.  But the Pride offense got moving in the 6th with a solo home run by Bridgette Del Ponte.  The homer was followed by a hit by Natasha Watley, then a reach on error by Caitlin Lowe.  Norris intentionally walked Madison Shipman, and with the bases loaded the rout was about to begin.

The Pride got 3 hits in a row from Andrea Duran, GiOnna DiSalvatore, and Kelly Kretschman, and scored 5 runs.  Pinch runner Sharonda McDonald scored on a sacrifice fly by Amanda Kamekona to complete the Pride's 7-hit 6-run inning.  The Racers never recovered, and the Pride went on to win the championship.

Danielle Lawrie picked up the win in relief with a 1-run and 3-hit performance over 6 innings.  Cat Osterman was named MVP of the Championship Series for the second year in a row. 

The 2014 version of the Pride were as thoroughly dominant as any team in the history of the NPF.  From top to bottom and from offense to defense the USSSA Pride were made to win the title.  And they produced!  In 48 games in 2014 the Pride scored 223 runs and only allowed 117.  The Pride average score was 4.64 runs to 2.44 runs.  No other team came close to equaling those numbers.

In 2014 Osterman pitched 100 innings and a 16-0 record with 160 strikeouts, a 0.560 ERA and 1.6 strikeouts per inning.  On average Cat recorded more outs through her strikeouts then her entire defense!  And Cat only allowed 8 earned runs all season.  On average she let in less than 1 earned run every 10 innings.  Insane!

The offense was led by slugger Amanda Kamekona who smashed 8 home runs and placed 3rd on the team with 26 RBI.

The Pride also benefited greatly from veteran Natasha Watley.  In 2014 Watley led the team in batting average with .403 and added 48 hits, a .458 on-base percentage, 26 runs and 6 RBI.  Veteran Andrea Duran also deserves mention with a .362 average, 2 home runs, 26 RBI, 47 hits, and a .478 on base percentage.

Between Cat Osterman shutting down opposing offenses and a slew of productive veteran hitters, the Pride were an indomitable force that did exactly what they were built to do: win a title. Read more.


Abbott & Bandits Steal 2015 Pro Crown

Monica Abbott Guides Chicago to 3rd NPF Title

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN

HOOVER  Despite a stacked roster and the morale boost of knowing it would be superstar Cat Osterman's last season, the Pride were defeated by the Chicago Bandits in two straight games.

The games were everything a true softball fan could have wanted in a championship matchup.  Cat Osterman faced off against Monica Abbott two games in a row.  But unlike the last two years, this time Abbott and the Bandits found a way to come out on top.

In Game 1 Abbott brought her A+ game and threw a complete-game shutout with only 2 hits against 5 strikeouts.

Osterman was almost equally brilliant.  She also threw 7 innings and struck out 8 while allowing only 3 hits with just one walk.

The only run scored during the game was an unearned run!  It took a Pride throwing error and a misplayed ball on consecutive plays to allow Bandit shortstop Tammy Williams to score. 

Game 2 was very similar to the first and it had a similar result.  Abbott again faced off against Osterman.  Abbott struck out 8 and allowed just 2 hits.  She threw her second consecutive shutout.

Osterman pulled her weight for sure: she pitched 7 innings and allowed only 1 earned run on 4 hits and struck out 6.

So the Bandits take their 3rd Cowles Cup title.  The previous two were in 2008 and 2011.  Congrats to the 2015 Chicago Bandits! Read more.



Is Keilani a Cat-Replacement?

Will Keilani Ricketts Ever Fill Cat Osterman's Cleats? 

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN   

ROSEMONT – Keilani Ricketts, the reigning NCAA champion pitcher out of Oklahoma, was one of the most heralded prospects to come out of college in recent memory—a true "can't miss" player at the pro level.  Keilani held out of the NPF for the majority of the 2013 season but was ultimately signed by the USSSA Pride and played reasonably well with them in the playoffs en route to a Cowles Cup championship for the Pride.

With only a year or two (at best) left for ace pitcher Cat Osterman before retirement, the Pride are hoping to slot in Keilani as "Cat 2.0" and keep up their high level of play.  But is Keilani really a Cat replacement?  I am not so sure.

Yes, Keilani had a good couple of games in playoffs, especially her game 3 performance against the Bandits in the Championship Series, but the Pride still had to call in Cat to shut down the game when it looked like the Bandits were ready to start a rally.

And Ricketts's numbers were not exactly "Cat-like" in the NPF playoffs.  Ricketts pitched 11 innings and struck out 13 with a 1-1 record and 1.27 ERA.  Compare that to Cat's 16 innings pitched and 21 strikeouts with a 2-0 record and 0.00 ERA.

Ricketts was good but not Cat-good.  And while Cat's numbers stacked up well with those of defeated Monica Abbott, Ricketts were slightly behind.

Is Keilani a Cat-replacement?  I am not sold yet.  The Pride better hope that Keilani can take that extra step as a pro or the NPF may be "Monica's League" as soon as Cat hangs up her cleats for good. Read more.

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