USSSA Pride takes Game 1 of NPF Championship Series
Abbott's Scrap Yard Dawgs eliminated by Chicago Bandits in semifinals
By Jim Jenks
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series couldn't have started off any better for the USSSA Pride.
Looking to avenge last year's championship loss to the Chicago Bandits, leadoff batter Megan Wiggins set the tone when she belted a 3-2 pitch over the right-center-field wall. Add another leadoff home run on the first pitch of the second inning for Chelsea Goodacre and the Pride went on to a 3-1 victory over the Bandits to take a 1-0 series lead at University of Alabama's Rhoads Stadium.
"Scoring first is huge," Pride coach Lonni Alameda said of the quick start. "We have a lot of information right now, having recently played Chicago, so we know them pretty well."
The Bandits, who just moments before had beaten the Scrap Yard Dawgs in their semifinal series, had to get right back on the field for Game 1, all because of the postponed games on Saturday due to rain and unsafe conditions. Chicago went from celebrating its hard-fought victory to being behind 1-0 in a span of less than 45 minutes.
When asked if his team lost some confidence after the lead-off home run by Wiggins, Bandits coach Mike Steuerwald downplayed the impact: "No, not at all. Our bench for the next seven innings never let up. Overall, we did a great job staying in the game and had a chance with the tying run at the plate in the seventh."
The Pride made it 3-0 in the third, when Wiggins again got on base, leading off with a walk, stealing second with two outs, and coming around to score on an RBI single by Lauren Chamberlain.
"Lauren can do damage with her swings and that is what we want to happen," Almeda said. "The steal was awesome, but if she had gotten thrown out, Lauren had gotten good information and would be leading off the next inning."
Bandits starting pitcher Morgan Foley was charged with all three runs and gave way with two outs in the third to Lacey Waldrop, who blanked the Pride over the last 3 1/3, only giving up two hits.
Pride starting pitcher Kelly Ricketts was strong going five innings and giving up only one run, a solo homer to Chicago's Kristen Brown in the fifth. Jordan Taylor was called on in the sixth and was lights-out in two innings of relief, not allowing a hit and striking out two for the save.
"The Pride and Bandits have always had a rivalry," said Taylor. "It was a little better back in the day when Megan Wiggins was on the Bandits, but I think there has always been these hard-fought games."
Game 2 is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Monday.
Chicago Bandits 2, Scrap Yards Dawgs 1
The defending champion Bandits knew they would have to beat their former pitcher and million-dollar arm Monica Abbott twice to qualify for the NPF championship series. A tall order given Abbott came into the playoffs with an 18-1 record.
Chicago scratched out single runs in the first and third innings and relied on a gutsy relief appearance from rookie Shelby Turnier to hold off the Dawgs and win the best-of-three semifinal series, 2-1.
Turnier, at 5-foot-5, 10 inches and a few statistics shorter than Abbott, worked out of a crazy, if not controversial, seventh inning to earn the victory. The University of Central Florida product came in with two outs in the third and cruised until the Dawgs final at-bat.
Emilee Koerner greeted her with a single through the right side. The next batter, Emily Crane, hit a sharp ground ball to third that seemingly was turned into a 5-4-3 double play. The home-plate umpire ruled that Crane's bat hit the glove of catcher Taylor Edwards and the runners were called safe at first and second. So, from two outs and nobody on, to nobody out and two on, Turnier went to work on the top of the order.
The Dawgs Kiki Stokes struck out looking on a 2-2 count. Britt Vonk flew out to right. One out away, and visibly taking deep breaths between pitches, Turnier walked Nerissa Myers on seven pitches, including two 3-2-count foul balls. The task turned to cleanup hitter Madison Shipman, who had an RBI single in the third and a home run in the Dawgs 10-1 rain-shortened win on Saturday. On a 0-1 pitch, Shipman hit a deep fly ball to center that seemed to freeze everyone before coming down in the glove of Danielle Zymkowitz at the warning track. Game over.
The Bandits got an RBI groundout and RBI triple from Zymkowitz off Abbott, who finished the tournament with a 1-2 record. She gave up 15 hits, seven earned runs and struck out 18 over the three games.
Turnier allowed only two singles and struck out six in 4 2/3 in getting the win.
USSSA Pride 6, Akron Racers 2
After not playing at all on Saturday because of the weather, the Pride became the first team to qualify for the NPF championship series, sweeping their best-of-three semifinal matchup with a 6-2 win in Sunday's first game.
The regular-season champions with a 37-13 record, the Pride came into the playoffs with a perfect 10-0 mark against the Racers and added two more, also winning 3-0 on Friday night.
USSSA jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, taking advantage of two walks and an error by Akron shortstop Sami Fagan. The Pride's Chelsea Goodacre had an RBI single in the frame.
In the third, Megan Wiggins led off with a towering blast down the right-field line landing in the first row of the famed Rhoads Stadium Brickyard. That was just the start as Akron used three pitchers in the inning. Three straight walks, two consecutive RBI singles by Hallie Wilson, and Sierra Romero, and a sacrifice fly by 2016 Univeristy of Alabama senior Haylie McCleney finished the scoring.
Pride starter Jolene Henderson seemed to struggle finding the strike zone in the first two innings, keeping the ball down, but still managed to keep the Akron hitters off balance, getting five of the six outs in the infield. The University of California product only allowed three singles and struck out four.
Akron's Sam Fischer accounted for Racers (22-30) two runs with a two-run homer in the sixth off Pride reliever Chelsea Thomas.
Jim Jenks is an executive producer with MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.