TUSCALOOSA, AL (August 23, 2016) – Back-to-back home runs and back-to-back upsets led to the Chicago Bandits hoisting the Cowles Cup as back-to-back National Pro Fastpitch Champions.
The Bandits used consecutive solo shots by catcher Taylor Edwards and outfielder Brittany Cervantes and a gritty pitching performance from Angel Bunner to defeat the USSSA Pride 2-1 on Tuesday night in the NPF Championship Series finale at Rhoads Stadium.
Chicago took two out of three games from the Pride after beating Monica Abbott and the Scrap Yard Dawgs in a best-of-three semifinal series, and rode those upsets to their second championship in a row.
A crowd of 457 was on hand to witness Chicago’s triumph, raising the record attendance to 7,408 for the event.
The victory capped an unlikely run by an unlikely third-seeded team that finished 27-27.
“It’s our first winning streak in almost four weeks,” Chicago coach Mike Steuerwald said with a chuckle, “and we got back to .500, a lot of milestones for us.”
Cervantes, who batted over .500 for the playoffs with three home runs, was named Most Valuable Player of the championship series, but the true hero for the Bandits was a player who wasn’t even on the roster until July 1. Left-hander Bunner was a journeyman pitcher who had played for three previous teams and sat out last season and a good portion this one before the Bandits called and signed her.
Bunner (3-3) scattered eight hits, striking out one batter with one walk, and worked her way out of several trouble spots for the win.
“I’m not going to lie: I’m never nervous and today I got here and I was nervous,” Bunner said. “It’s a dream. Of course I imagined it, but living it is a different thing.”
Said Steuerwald, “We just trusted her to keep us in the game.”
That’s what she did. The only one to really get through against Bunner was league Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman, the USSSA Pride’s veteran outfielder who was a four-time All-American at the University of Alabama, where the championship was held.
Hobbled throughout the postseason by a calf injury that required a brace on her right leg, Kretschman went 2-for-3 and cracked a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the fifth inning to cut the Chicago lead to 2-1.
She wasn’t going to let the injury stop her with an NPF title on the line.
“At this point, I told (coach Lonni Alameda) I’ll rip it in half if I have to,” Kretschman said.
Bunner got through six innings without allowing the Pride to tie it up or take the lead, and rookie Shelby Turnier came out of the bullpen to retire the final three batters in order for her second save of the season, and her second in as many days.
The game ended with Kretschman on deck.
“I always want to be in that spot,” said the NPF’s first-ever Triple Crown hitter, who led the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
The USSSA Pride (40-15) won the regular-season title, only to fall to their rivals in the championship series for the second year in a row.
“This is probably the most fun championship I’ve played in, in all my time,” said Kretschman, an 11-year veteran, explaining that this series was about the teams rather than a showdown between a couple of star-power pitchers.
Jill Barrett went 2-for-3 for the Bandits. Keilani Ricketts (8-6) gave up the two runs on five hits in 4 1/2 innings. Jordan Taylor pitched 2 2/3 innings of no-hit ball in relief for the Pride.
About the Chicago Bandits:
Since 2005, the Chicago Bandits have been members of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league. Located in Rosemont, the Bandits provide an opportunity for female fastpitch players to further their careers at a professional level, and the roster has included such names as Jennie Finch, Stacy May-Johnson, Emily Allard and Tammy Williams. The three-time NPF Champions, who are owned by Bill Sokolis, play at The Ballpark at Rosemont, the only stadium in the country built for a women’s professional team. The 2016 season will be the Bandits’ 12th season in the NPF.
The USSSA Florida Pride is a professional franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch League that is owned and operated by USSSA. The amateur organization of USSSA has multi-sport coverage and encompasses teams and players from the United States and abroad.
About National Pro Fastpitch (NPF):
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), an Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball since 2002, provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in diamond sports beyond their collegiate success. The 2016 NPF season will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Coverage includes the NPF College Draft presented by Bownet on Thur., April 14, followed by 23 regular-season games, a Championship Series Preview Special and the 2016 NPF Championship Series. The NPF recently announced that the Scrap Yard Dawgs, located in The Woodlands, Texas, will join the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Dallas Charge, Pennsylvania Rebellion and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2016 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand, representing the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women’s softball.
Brittany Cervantes (photo by Bill Diehm, courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch).