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.
“I keep telling myself I love to be in that situation,” Turnier said. “I think that kind of relates to the way that I pitch.”
Cervantes remembers a situation a few years ago when the bases were loaded and she was in right field. Teammate Danielle Zymkowitz turned to her and said, “Here comes the fun part.”
Cervantes and the Bandits are ready for more.
“I’m just excited to be still playing one more game,” she said. “It’s going to be fun.”
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About USSSA Florida Pride:
The USSSA Florida Pride is a professional franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch League that is owned and operated by USSSA. The amateur organization of USSSA has multi-sport coverage and encompasses teams and players from the United States and abroad.
About National Pro Fastpitch (NPF):
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2002, provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in diamond sports beyond their collegiate success. The 2016 NPF season will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Coverage includes the NPF College Draft presented by Bownet on Thur., April 14, followed by 23 regular-season games, a Championship Series Preview Special and the 2016 NPF Championship Series. The NPF recently announced that the Scrap Yard Dawgs, located in The Woodlands, Texas, will join the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Dallas Charge, Pennsylvania Rebellion and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2016 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand, representing the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball.