Pride, Bandits seek NPF championship glory

Pride, Bandits seek NPF championship glory

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A heated rivalry is best served with a winner-take-all game.

With the series tied at one game apiece, the National Pro Fastpitch championship comes down to Tuesday night, when the most successful teams in league history -- the USSSA Pride and the Chicago Bandits -- meet at Rhodes Stadium on the campus of the University of Alabama.

The Pride, out of Kissimmee, Fla., lost to the Bandits in the championship last season, but come in as the top seed with a 40-14 record after sweeping the Akron Racers in the semifinals. The Bandits (25-27) struggled early in the season after losing Monica Abbott to the million-dollar contract with the expansion Scrap Yard Dawgs, but they took a measure of revenge by beating Abbott twice and taking their semifinal series, 2-1.

"You look at who we beat in the first series -- the million-dollar arm -- and then in this series," Bandits coach Michael Steurwald said after taking Game 2 on Monday night, 11-5. "I think [the Pride] have seven All-NPF players on that roster and the coaching staff of the year." 

The Pride won Game 1 on Sunday, 3-1.

Each team has won three championships, known as the Cowles Cup. The Pride won in 2010, '13 and '14, and the club has five regular-season championships (2011, '12, '14, '15 and '16) to its credit. Only the Bandits have won as many Cowles Cups (2008, '11, '15).

"When you go and beat a pitcher like Monica [Abbott] and put it to them, they had some energy going with their scrappiness," said Pride coach Lonni Alameda. "The energy from that is tough to beat a lot of times."

USSSA is led by Kelly Kretschman, who is the two-time NPF Player of the Year, and had a Triple Crown performance in 2016 with a .466 average, 13 homers and 45 RBIs. Outfielder Megan Wiggins, catcher Chelsea Goodacre and designated hitter Lauren Chamberlain have been swinging with power during the championship series, with four homers between them.

Catcher Taylor Edwards (.327, 10 home runs, 34 RBIs), outfielder Brittany Cervantes (.284, eight home runs, 25 RBIs) and third baseman Jill Barrett (.333, one home run, 16 RBIs) each homered in Game 2 and have led the Bandits' offense throughout the season.

Neither team officially named a starting pitcher. But expect Keilani Ricketts (8-5, 2.42 ERA), winner of Game 2 against the Dawgs, to take the mound for the Pride. Steurwald said "all hands on deck" will be ready for the Bandits.  

"I'm fighting for the last win of the year and hearing of the beef going on [in the past]," said Goodacre of the rivalry, "I am in it, too, now. Honestly, just being here and able to fight with this team, fighting for the last game of the year is cool. I can't wait to do it."

Jim Jenks is an executive producer with MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.