All NPF photos courtesy of Dina Kwit at www.dkwit.ifp3.com
Sulphur, La. --- The Chicago Bandits and the USSSA Florida Pride were battling for the National Pro Fastpitch Championship Cowles Cup for the second year in a row at McMurry Park in Sulphur, La. on Aug 20-21.
The Pride upended the top-seeded Bandits two games to one in the best-of-three series to win in 2010.
But this year it was the third-seeded Bandits, riding the left-handed arm of pitcher Monica Abbott, who sat atop the NPF world after the final out was made on Aug. 21.
Chicago’s two-game victory over the Pride – 4-3 in eight innings, 10-3 in seven – was its reward for keeping the faith during a roller-coaster season.
The up-and-down theme carried into its first preliminary-round game against the Akron Racers. The umpires dinged Abbott with three illegal pitch calls right away, which led to Akron’s first and only run of the game. Chicago regrouped on the strength of eight Abbott strikeouts, Nikki Nemitz’s two-run double and Tammy Williams’ three-run home run to win 8-1.
Abbott relieved Nemitz in the third the next day, with the Bandits up 4-3. Although Sam Marder’s homer in the sixth sent the game into extra innings, Nemitz – who stayed in the game as the designated player – sent the Bandits to the finals with a three-run walk-off in the bottom of the ninth. Nemitz was credited with the 7-4 victory while Abbott picked up the save.
The Pride faced the NPF Diamonds in the other first-round series. The regular-season champs (30-9) held a 4-0 lead over the Diamonds when lightning strikes suspended Game 1 after two innings.
What a difference a day almost made as the Diamonds, came up swinging against Danielle Lawrie and Jordan Taylor when the game resumed the next day, scoring six runs in the sixth inning to take a 7-4 lead. The Pride's Cat Osterman came in relief and Osterman sparked her team as the Pride came back to earn a 8-7 victory.
The close defeat seemed to take a lot of steam away from the Diamonds as Sarah Pauly one-hit them in the day’s second game for a 7-0 victory.
COWLES CUP FINALS
Game 1 of the 2011 National Pro Fastpitch Championship finals was a publicist’s dream.
Besides being a rematch of the 2010 finals, Abbott – whom the Pride traded away in May 2010 - was going against Osterman – the pitcher for whom she had been traded.
Abbott got off to a shaky start. Her throwing error on a force play at home in the second gave the Pride an early 2-0 lead.
In comparison, Osterman held the Bandits scoreless the first four innings. But Osterman gave up a three-run bases-loaded double to Megan Wiggins that put Chicago up 3-2.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Osterman grabbed her left arm and fell to the ground in pain after throwing a drop pitch to Jamee Juarez.
Unconfirmed reports said Osterman had torn or strained a bicep. The injury ended out being very costly for both Osterman and the Pride.
The Prides Andrea Duran’s two-out solo home run in the seventh put the game into extra innings. However the Bandits quickly answered back as Vicky Galindo scored in the top of the eighth on Amber Patton’s single to give Abbott and the Bandits a 4-3 decision.
Pitcher Jordan Taylor started the game off for the Pride. Bandits base hitter Megan Wiggins led off the bottom of the first with a triple and scored on a fielding error. For the game Wiggins earned a walk, a fly out, a single and a two-run double.
At that stage of the game the Pride went to pitcher Sarah Pauly. Pauly gave up two more runs before retiring the side with the Bandits leading 5-0.
The teams traded pairs of runs in the second as Abbott, walked Alissa Haber and Charters and then yielded a single to Natasha Watley.
The Bandits scored their runs on two hits, a walk and a Pride error.
The Pride picked up another run in the top of the third, when Jessica Mendoza doubled and scored on Haber’s single into center field.
From that point on Abbott allowed only three more batters to reach base the rest of the game – two on fielder’s choices – while striking out five.
Wiggins’ home run in the bottom of the third made the score 8-3 Chicago. The Bandits scored their final two runs in the fifth off Lawrie, the third Pride pitcher of the day Wiggins ended a potential Pride comeback in the top of the seventh with a circus catch of Lauren Lappin’s drive to left field.
“Those are the catches you live for and practice for all the time,” Wiggins told ESPN2.
Abbott, went on to win the tournament MVP, and the Bandits dream to win the Cowles Cup twice was now a reality.