TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Chicago Bandits are embracing the underdog role in this week’s NPF Championship Series at Rhoads Stadium on the campus of the University of Alabama. The third-seeded squad, which posted a 23–25 record in the regular season, was expected by few to repeat as Cowles Cup champions this year. But the Bandits apparently did not get that memo, as they eliminated the second-seeded Scrap Yard Dawgs on Sunday to advance to the finals, and subsequently forced a winner-take-all Game 3 with an 11–5 win over the regular-season champion USSSA Pride on Monday.
“You look at who we beat in the first series—the million-dollar arm—and then in this series, I think [the Pride] have seven All-NPF players on that roster and the coaching staff of the year,” Bandits head coach Michael Steuerwald told Excelle Sports after the game. “But we do what we can to compete.”
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And the Bandits did more than just compete on Monday in their search for a fourth Cowles Cup. Following a 3–1 Pride win on Sunday night in Game 1 of the championship series, Bandits starter Michelle Gascoigne held USSSA scoreless in the opening frame of Game 2 for the first time this postseason. The contest remained scoreless until the third, when Chicago broke through in the bottom of the inning with All-NPF selection Taylor Edwards cranking a solo home run—her 11th of the year—off of Pride starter Jolene Henderson to right-center field to give her squad a 1–0 lead.
The Pride answered right back, however, as a wild pitch during Chelsea Goodacre’s at-bat scored pinch runner Kirsti Merritt from third to tie the game at one. On the next pitch, Goodacre singled through the right side to score Lauren Chamberlain and give USSSA a 2–1 lead.
The bottom of the frame saw another lead change, as a single from Kristen Brown off of reliever Kelsey Nunley scored Danielle Zymkowitz from third to tie the game. That hit was followed by an RBI single from Emily Carosone to plate Megan Blank and give the Bandits a 3–2 lead. A three-run home run by Jill Barrett—her first of the season—then ensued to extend the Bandits’ lead to four, after which Hannah Rogers entered the game for Nunley.
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“I was really just thinking to move the runners over,” Barrett said. “The pitch before I was looking to bunt and then [Nunley’s pitch] somehow found my barrel.”
USSSA kept its foot on the gas in the sixth, though, as Shelby Pendley knocked an RBI single off of her college teammate Gascoigne to score Courtney Ceo, prompting a pitching change that brought in Shelby Turnier. Goodacre’s hot hitting continued in the next at-bat, as she ripped a two-RBI single up the middle to bring the Pride within one run.
But the defending champions pulled away in the bottom of the fifth, as Zymkowitz hit a double down the right-field line with one out to set up an RBI situation for Blank, who then notched an RBI triple. A run-scoring single from Brenna Moss followed to make the score 8–5, before Chicago capped its scoring in the sixth with a three-run home run from Brittany Cervantes, which extended its lead to six runs and essentially sealed the victory.
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“These 23 [players] have been the most-fun group, minus the softball at one point in the season, and then the second half they decided to add the softball to that,” Steuerwald said. “If you asked everyone in the softball world should we be going to Game 3 against the Pride tomorrow night, you probably would win a lot of money in Vegas.”
The Bandits and Pride will play for all the NPF marbles on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.