(Photo, left: Caitlin Lowe of the USSSA Pride, taken by Dina Kwit)
This weekend we saw a shift in power at the top of the League. The USSSA Florida Pride and the Chicago Bandits did battle in Orlando to see who would take control of the standings. The Carolina Diamonds saw the season debut of a pitcher to the circle, and got a huge lift with three home runs from one of their hitters. Action around the NPF was exciting to watch in week 8, and more will come in the next few weeks as the War of the Roses nears.
The first series featured the giants at the top of the League, the USSSA Florida Pride and the Chicago Bandits. The first game on Thursday the 26th saw Cat Osterman do what she does best, and that is, throw excellent softball. Osterman breezed through the contest going 7 innings allowing no runs and only three hits. She added seven strikeouts to her season total in a 9-0 series opener win against the Bandits. Left fielder Jessica Mendoza led the way for the Pride with a two for three performance and recorded three RBI’s. Kristen Sandberg also made her presence known with a 2-run home run in her only at-bat in the game.
The second game of the series on Friday, had Monica Abbott of the Bandits face Sarah Pauly of the Pride. Both pitchers took their teams to the 7th inning only surrendering one run apiece. Pauly had a nearly perfect 7th and allowed the Pride to come up to bat, still tied in the bottom half of the inning, and they delivered. Abbott then loaded the bases in the inning and allowed Jessica Mendoza to hit a sac fly just deep enough to score Lauren Lappin. Pauly finished the night with seven innings pitched, giving up just one run on five hits. Abbott recorded her second loss of the season as she went 6.1 innings and allowed 2 earned runs on eight hits in the 2-1 Bandit loss.
In game 3, the Bandits were in desperation mode to not let the Pride lead in the standings swell, but the Pride again, withstood another fierce contest against the Bandits. Danielle Lawrie of the Pride pitched the third gem on the weekend as she went seven innings and gave up two earned runs on just three hits. Lawrie recorded nine strikeouts in the 3-2 Pride victory. On the other side, the Bandits used three pitchers in the game- all three allowed an earned run, the third of which was given to Abbott who picked up her 3rd loss of the season.
The fourth and final game of the weekend series looked like the Pride were out to take a commanding lead in the NPF, and they ultimately did. However, the Pride got hit early as Rookie Watch pitcher Brittany Mack allowed three runs to the Bandits in the top of the 1st. The Pride responded with two of their own in the bottom half of the 1st off of Bandit’s rookie, Chanda Bell. Following the big first inning, Mack settled in nicely and pitched into the 5thinning before she surrendered another run. At this point, however, Mack was ejected along with her head coach Beth Torina and catcher Kristen Sandberg. The Bandits Chanda Bell, Shannon Doepking, and Coach Mike Steurwalk were ejected earlier in the game as well. Pitchers were ejected for what was deemed by the home plate umpire as “intentionally throwing at a batter.” Under Rule 13.5 of the rulebook, this not only carries an ejection for the pitcher, but also the catcher and the Head Coach. This brought in Pride ace Cat Osterman to seal the win. The Pride added a run in the 3rd to tie the Bandits, and added four more in the 4th to give Osterman the cushion she needed to save the game. The Pride won not only the game, but swept the series from the Bandits with a 7-4 win in game four. The Pride now find themselves leading the Bandits and the rest of the NPF by 4.5 games and are on an impressive 9-1 streak in their last ten contests. The Pride seems to have found their stride, as they are also winners in twelve of their last fifteen, since being swept by the Bandits on July 1st.
Other action on the weekend included the Akron Series between the Akron Racers and the Carolina Diamonds. This series gave the Carolina Diamonds’ pitcher Morgan Melloh a welcome back to the NPF. Melloh made her season debut after being out of the country for the first half of the summer. Melloh’s return for the Diamonds concluded with a 6-4 victory, but not before she gave up two 2-run home runs, one each to Brianna Hesson and Nicole Trimboli of the Racers. Melloh’s offense answered on her behalf as Kelsi Weseman and Amanda Kamekona each hit 2-run homers for the Diamonds to equal the mark. Melloh finished with seven innings pitched and gave up four earned runs on just three hits and nine strikeouts.
The second day of action featured a double header between the two clubs. In the first game of the double header, Racers’ veteran Lisa Norris pitched a complete game gem. Norris gave up just one earned run and two hits with a season high twelve strikeouts. The Racers found early firepower from Sam Marder and Taylor Schlopy. Marder stared the bottom half of the 2nd inning with a solo home run, and after Nicole Pauly reached first, Taylor Schlopy hit a 2-run home run to left center to give the Racers the lead. The lone run against Norris came on a solo home run by Amanda Kamekona, her second of three home runs on the weekend. The Racers cruised to victory with a score of 7-1.
The second game of the double header on Saturday was an always-popular Rookie Watch match-up, this time between the Diamonds’ Angel Bunner and the Racers’ Erin Arevalo. Arevalo needed only 83 pitches to finish off the Diamonds as she went seven innings and gave up just two runs, one earned, on four hits. The Diamonds looked to extend the game in the top of the 6th when Rachel Folden singled to bring home Natalie Vilarreal, but Nicole Pauly closed the door in the bottom of the 7th. Pauly delivered a walk off single to score Brianna Hesson for the 2-3 Racer win.
(Photo, right: Amanada Kamekona of the Carolina Diamonds, taken by Ray Marsden)
The final game of the series wrapped up on the 29th and was a tag team effort from the Diamonds pitching staff. Morgan Melloh tried to follow up her winning performance with another impressive showing, but was unable to do so as she yielded four runs, all earned, in only two innings of work. The Diamonds took the early lead in the 1stinning on a two RBI single from Kelsi Weseman, and added two more in the 2nd on Amanda Kamekona’s third home run of the weekend. However, the Racers struck with 4 runs of their own in the bottom of the 2nd inning on home runs by Brianna Hesson and Kelley Montalvo. This opened the door for workhorse Katie Burkhart to come in and shut down the Racers’ powerful lineup. Burkhart went the 5 remaining innings and gave up no runs and only three hits. The Diamonds added a single run in the 4th on yet another Amanda Kamekona hit and sealed the deal with a 2-run home run from GiOnna DiSalvatore in the top of the 7th to get the 7-4 win.
Next week, the Diamonds will host the Chicago Bandits at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium in Kannapolis, North Carolina for a four game set. The Akron Racers will travel to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Orlando, Florida to take on the League leading USSSA Florida Pride for another four game set.