(Left: Bianca Mejia, shortstop for the Carolina Diamonds, photo by Bill Diem)
Week six in the NPF was packed with more impressive offensive performances, along with a couple stellar pitching outings. Games were won either by landslides or by late inning heroics. Either way, in trying to describe the week, the word “dull” does not come to mind. Both series’ (Akron Racers at Carolina Diamonds and Chicago Bandits at USSSA Pride) would have déjà vu games. In the end the Akron Racers (10-14) and the Carolina Diamonds (9-14) would end up even-winning two games apiece. While the USSSA Pride (13-10) would take the series 3-1 from the top team in the NPF, the Chicago Bandits (15-9).
Game one of the series on Thursday, July 12th between the Akron Racers and the Carolina Diamonds took place at Fluor Field in Greenville, SC. This game did not disappoint the home team fans, as the Diamonds squeezed by with a close victory with a score of 6-5. Katie Burkhart, who has proven to be the work horse for the Diamonds, was on the mound for all seven innings. She allowed 5 runs on seven hits while striking out 12 of the Akron hitters. The Racers got off to a good start by scoring three runs in their first at-bat of the game. The Diamonds answered in their half of the first by scoring three runs off of Rachel Folden’s home run. The game remained fairly quiet as Burkhart retired the Akron hitters in order in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings. The Diamonds made some noise in the 4th inning when Annie Lockwood hit a solo home run to break the tie and put the Diamond up 4-3. The Racers did not give up the fight as they took advantage of a Diamond error in the 6th inning to tie the game back up at 4-4. The Racers took the lead, for the second time in the game in the top of the 7th after Burkhart issued a bases loaded walk to Brianna Hesson. Rachel Folden came through getting her 4th RBI on the day and tied the game for the Diamonds again as she hit a single to score Jami Lobpries, who was on base due to a single of her own. With the score tied at 5-5 and one out the Racers brought in Kristina Thorson to try and hold the Diamonds. Pinch hitter Amanda Kamekona stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. She fell behind to Thorson 0-2 before hitting the game winning single to score Jazlyn Lunceford.
Game two of the series on Friday, July 13th proved the fight that verteran Kristina Thorson and her Akron Racers have. Thorson would get the start for the Racers as Rookie Angel Bunner was on the mound for the Diamonds. Before it was over both teams would need the aid of multiple pitchers on staff to complete the game. Game two looked very familiar as the Racers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the top of the first. Complete déjà vu from Thursday night occurred as the Diamonds came back and scored 3 runs to tie the game. The Racers broke the tie in the top of the as both Sharonda McDonald and Aja Paculba scored on a Bunner wild pitch. Nicole Pauly brought in another Akron run as she hit a single before Brianna Hesson flew out to end the inning. Pinch hitter Taylor Schlopy came in and hit an RBI double in the third to give the racers a 7-3 lead. The Diamonds made the first pitching change of the game, bringing in Danielle Spaulding in the top of the 4th. Bianca Mejia then brought the Diamonds closer as she hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th to put the game at 7-4. Aja Paculba hit a double in the top of the 5th to score Kelley Montalvo and increase the lead to 8-4 for the Racers. In the top of the 6th Nicole Pauly led off with a solo home run to further the Racers lead to 9-4. In the top of the 7th the Diamonds made another pitching change, this time bringing in Sharon Palma. Palma got out of the inning and out of a bases loaded jam by getting Brianna Hesson to ground out. Akron’s Jen Mineau took over for Kristina Thorson in the top of the 7th. After getting Natalie Villarreal to fly out, Jami Lobpries hit a solo home run off of Mineau to bring the score to 9-5. With two outs and a runner on first Kelsi Weseman hit a 2-run home run to bring the score to 9-7. The Racers then made another pitching change bringing in rookie Hillary Bach. Bach gave up a double to Bianca Mejia which brought the tying run to the plate. The Diamonds hope of a comeback faded however, as Bach got fellow rookie, Sara Plourde to fly out to end the game.
Game three of the series saw a rookie pitching match-up between Angel Bunner and Hillary Bach on Saturday. Bach lasted all 7 innings giving up 6 runs on 11 hits. On the other side, Bunner needed the help of fellow Diamond rookies, Amanda Locke and Sara Plourde to get through 7 innings. The Diamonds got on the board first as Natalie Villarreal led off with a triple and scored on the double by Kelsi Weseman. Amanda Locke then hit a three-run home run to give the Diamonds a 4-0 lead in the first. Nicole Pauly led off the second inning for the Racers by drawing a walk and eventually came around to score on a Nicole Trimboli single. Taylor Schlopy followed with a solo home run to cut the lead in half bringing the score to 4-2. The Racers evened the score at 4-4 in the top of the 3rd as Kaylyn Castillo and Brianna Hesson both came around to score. Sam Marder’s single broke the tie in the top of the 4th, bringing Lisa Modglin home. Akron’s was shortened, as GiOnna DiSalvatore singled in the bottom of the 4th to score Angeline Quiocho. A bases loaded walk to Megan Bush gave the Racers the lead again as Alicia Herron scored. Another bases loaded walk, this time to Lisa Modglin, allowed Nicole Pauly to score and bring the score to 7-5 in favor of the Racers. In the 6th the Racers added 2 more runs as Jessica Garcia and Hesson crossed the plate. The Diamonds pushed a run across in the bottom of the sixth off of Weseman’s hit bringing the score to 9-6 that was it though, as Bach retired the Diamonds in order to end the game and get the win.
After a hard fought and high scoring series so far and with the Racers leading the series 2-1 the Diamonds showed up to the ballpark on Sunday with something to prove. Game 4 would be another nail biter and a hard fought battle. Getting the start for the Diamonds for the second time in the series was Katie Burkahrt, while the Racers started recent signee and former University of Georgia Bulldog, Erin Arevalo. Both faced over 30 hitters each and threw over 120 pitches on the day. Burkhart struck out 5 while allowing 6 hits and rookie Arevalo struck out 7 while giving up only 5 hits in her debut. The Diamonds scored as Natalie Villarreal got on due to a Racer error and came around to score on a passed ball. The Racers got on the board in the top of the third. To begin, Kelley Montalvo was awarded first base after being hit by a pitch. She advanced to second on Sharonda McDonald’s single. Montalvo then took third and home due to passed balls, thrown by Burkhart to tie the game at 1-1. The Diamonds were able to break the tie in the home half of the 5th inning. Villarreal drew a walk, advanced to second off of a single by Kelsi Weseman, and scored on a single by Rachel Folden. The Racers showed the same fight that they had the entire weekend as they entered the top half of the 6th. Sam Marder drew a one-out walk. She was pinch ran for by Megan Bush, who scored on the double by Kaylyn Castillo to tie the game at 2-2. With two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the 7th, the Diamonds had hope that Folden would continue to be as clutch as she had been the entire series, but Arevalo proved tough, as she got Folden to ground out to second base to end the 7th and send the game into extra innings. Burkhart seemed to get stronger in the 8th inning as she faced the top of the Racer line-up and would record two strike outs, a single, and fly out. Amanda Locke grounded out to start the 8th inning for the Diamonds and it looked as if it might be a long day of free softball due to the dominate performance from both pitchers on the mound. Bianca Mejia had other plans. She fell behind 0-2 to Arevalo, who had kept Mejia hitless all game. The third pitch offering from Arevalo over the outside part of the plate however, proved to be just what Mejia was looking for. The walk-off solo blast to right center field would end the day giving the Diamonds a 3-2 extra inning victory and tie the series at 2-2.
A little farther south in Viera, Florida the USSSA Pride hosted the Chicago Bandits for an exciting 4 game series, that did not disappoint in any aspect of the game. The length of game 1 of a double header on Saturday, July 14th made for a long night for the players and the fans. The game was set to be a duel once the starting pitchers were announced. On the mound for the visiting Chicago Bandits was Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman was on the mound for the USSSA Pride. Both pitchers went the distance and then some for their respective teams. The two pitchers matched up evenly in just about every category. Abbott allowed one run and 6 hits while striking out 14 while Osterman allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and struck out 13. Shannon Doepking got the Bandits on the board first with a solo home run in the top of the second. It was a game dominated by pitching as both Abbott and Osterman allowed very few runners to ever get on base. In the bottom of the 7th the Pride was down to their final 2 outs as Megan Willis stepped to the plate. Willis hit a solo home run to keep the Pride in the game. Offense for both teams was kept quite by Abbott and Osterman in the 8th and 9th innings. Starting in the 10th inning, the International Tie Breaker rule was put into play. Kristen Butler was the last out in the 9th so she was put on second base to start the 10th inning. Tammy Williams sacrificed her over to second. Amanda Williams then hit a single to score Butler and give the Bandits a 2-1 lead which proved to be enough as they held the Pride hitters in the bottom of the 10th.
Game 2 of the double header started out a lot like the first game. On the mound and in full force for the game was Nikki Nemitz for the Bandits and Sarah Pauly for the Pride. The pitchers were again in control, allowing few runners to reach safely and even fewer to proceed past second base. The Bandits broke through in the top of the 5th as Amanda Williams drew a lead-off walk and came around to score on a double by Megan Wiggins. Wiggins added another run to the board as she scored on a single by Amber Patton to bring the score to 2-0 in favor of the Bandits. Kelly Kretschman put the USSSA Pride on the board as she hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 5th inning. The Pride added 4 more runs in the bottom of the sixth, as Ashley Charters reached third on a Bandit error. Kristen Sandberg stepped to the plate and continued her stellar rookie season as she hit a 2-run home run to give the Pride the lead, 3-2. History would repeat itself as Jessica Mendoza got on after a base hit and Kelly Kretschman hit the second 2-run home run of the inning and her second of the game, to bring the score to 5-2. After getting 2 outs in the top of the 7th , then giving up back-to-back singles, Sarah Pauly left the game as she was replaced by Cat Osterman. Osterman only needed 5 pitches to get the third and final out of the game as she struck out Alisa Goler.
The third game between the Chicago Bandits and the USSSA Pride would be a show for the 3,100 fans in attendance. Eleven different Pride players touched home plate during the seven inning game, which the Pride won by a score of 17-2. Five pitchers combined in the game, with Danielle Lawrie getting the start for the Pride going 5 innings before Jamee Juarez came in for her in relief. Michelle Moses got the start for the Bandits and had the shortest outing of the night. She was responsible for 5 runs in the first inning without recording an out before being replaced by Meagan Denny White. Chanda Bell was the last pitcher for the Bandits, coming in for Denny-White in the 4th inning. Moses started the game by loading the bases with a walk to Natasha Watley, giving up a single to Caitlin Lowe, and hitting Kristen Sandberg. She then issued a walk to Jessica Mendoza and Kelly Kretschman to allow 2 runs to score before being replaced by Denny-White. Ashley Charters hit a bases clearing double to put the Pride up 5-0. Due to illegal pitches and wild pitches, Charters came around to score, bringing the final tally to six runs in the first inning. After a quick inning for the Bandits the Pride was back at it again. In the second they added 3 more runs off the bats of Kelly Kretschman and Andrea Duran. The Bandits removed their goose egg on the score board in the top of the 3rd when Alisa Goler would hit a double to score Megan Wiggins. The Pride threatened again in the 3rd but Denny-White got out of a bases loaded jam by striking out Kretschman to end the inning. This was the only inning that the Pride did not score in the game. The Bandits managed to get 2 base runners on base in the top of the 4th but could not produce a run. The Pride added 4 more runs in the bottom half of the 4th off of Chanda Bell to bring the score to 13-1. The Bandits stranded another base runner in the top of the 5th inning and the Pride added a run as Kelsey Bruder hit a single to score Charters. The top of the 6th was the same story for the Bandits as they stranded a runner, making a total of 10 left on base for the entire game. Charlotte Morgan started the inning off for the Pride by hitting a solo shot to right center field. Before the inning was over the Pride added 2 more runs off of Megan Willis’ sac-fly and another single by Bruder. Alisa Goler got her second RBI on the night as she drew a bases loaded walk to allow Vangie Galindo to score. The Bandits left the bases loaded for the second time on the night as Jamee Juarez got Tammy Williams to fly out to left field to end the game.
With the Pride leading the series 2-1, Monday night’s game was a pivotal point for the Bandits. The Bandits came out ready to play and took an early lead but could not hold on as the Pride had a rally inning that changed the game. Rookie Brittany Mack carried the pitching load for the USSSA Pride, lasting all 7 innings giving up 6 runs on 8 hits. The Bandits used 4 different pitchers to try and keep the Pride off balance. Nikki Nemitz got the start and lasted 4 innings. She was replaced by Meagan Denny-White who hurled through the long 5th inning along with Michelle Moses. Chanda Bell closed out the game for the Bandits. Brittany Mack had a shaky first inning as she loaded the bases after a lead-off single to Megan Wiggins and then issued back-to-back walks to Amber Patton and Alisa Goler. Brittany Cervantes cleared the bases and gave the Bandits an early 4-0 lead as she hit a grand slam to left center field. The Bandits threatened again in the top of the 3rd inning and loaded the bases but Mack hunkered down and got back-to-back strike outs to end the inning. Nemitz kept the Pride at bay until the bottom of the 4th inning, with 2 runners on base, multiple passed balls by Nemitz allowed the Pride to get their first run on the board. Tonya Callahan then hit a single to score Jessica Mendoza and bring the score to 4-2 with the Pride still trailing. The bottom of the 5th inning changed everything. Natasha Watley led off with a single and came around to score off of Caitlin Lowe’s double. Kristyn Sandberg then gave the Pride the lead as she hit a 2-run home run to right center field to put the Pride up 5-4. This marked the end of the night for Nemitz as Meagan Denny-White took over for the Bandits. A single to Mendoza and back-to-back walks to Kelly Kretschman and Kelsey Bruder led to 2 more runs, as Mendoza scored on a wild pitch and Kretschman scored off of Andrea Duran’s hit. This was all for Denny-White as Michelle Moses took over. Lauren Lappin’s single added another run to increase the lead and bring the score to 8-4. Watley, with her second at-bat of the inning, blasted a grand slam to right center field to put the Pride up 12-4. With 2 outs, Jessica Mendoza stepped to the plate and hit the first pitch she saw from Denny-White over the right field wall to give the Pride a 13-4 lead over the Bandits. The Bandits loaded the bases again in the 6th inning for Brittany Cervantes. She was be hit by a pitch allowing Amber Patton to score. Shannon Doepking drew a bases loaded walk to bring the score to 13-6. The Bandits sent Chanda Bell to face the Pride hitters in the bottom of the 6th. She responded well to the challenge and retired the Pride hitters in order. Brittany Mack would respond to fellow rookie and former SEC foe and got the top of the Bandits line-up to fly out and ground out twice to end the game and the series.
The USSSA Pride will travel to Akron, Ohio to take on the Racers in a four game series starting on Thursday, July 19th. The Bandits, with the goal of maintaining their current number one spot in the NPF standings will host the Carolina Diamonds, also in a four game series starting on Thursday that will continue through Sunday. All of the NPF games can be watched live via the NPF website at www.profastpitch.com.
Fans won’t want to miss the War of the Roses at the 2012 Championship Series taking place August 23-26 in Rosemont, IL. Game and ticket details are available at www.championship.profastpitch.com or by calling the League Office at 615-232-2900.
Never miss a pitch again with the new NPF phone app! Available now for download for iPhone and Android. Keep up with all the scores, stats, and live action right from your phone.
It is not too late to join the first of its kind Fantasy Softball League. Join in on the fun now and challenge your friends and co-workers in your own league or join a public league. To sign up and draft you team go to http://www.pointstreak.us/159/Account/Register