Lauren Chamberlain gets Rhoads redemption, leads Pride to win at start of NPF Championship Series

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Lauren Chamberlain had a little extra motivation on Friday night ahead of her USSSA Pride’s 3–0 win over the fourth-seeded Akron Racers in Game 1 of the NPF’s opening-round playoff series. Chamberlain, the top-seeded Pride’s designated hitter and owner of the NCAA’s all-time home run record, fervently recalls the last time she stepped on the field at Rhoads Stadium on the campus of the University of Alabama, the site of the 2016 NPF Championship Series.

“It was tough the last time I was here,” Chamberlain recalled to Excelle Sports about Oklahoma’s Super Regional loss to Alabama in 2015, which denied the Sooners a trip to the Women’s College World Series and ended her illustrious collegiate career. “I was excited to be back with this team to make new memories.”

[More from Excelle Sports: Bunner outduels Abbott, Bandits win Game 1]

So when Chamberlain—a four-time All-American with the Sooners—got that chance, she took full advantage of it. Following consecutive walks to NPF Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman and All-NPF selection Shelby Pendley by Racers starter Jailyn Ford in the bottom of the first inning, Chamberlain stepped up to the plate with two on and one out. The second-year NPF player subsequently made Ford pay for her free passes, depositing the ball far over the left-center field fence for a three-run blast, her ninth of the season.

“I knew early in the game that [Pride starter Keilani Ricketts] was dealing with some stuff early in that first inning and I wanted to get some runs up on the board and get her to feel comfortable,” said Chamberlain, who finished 1-for-3 on the night. “Seeing her fight out of that first inning, I wanted to fight back with her.”

The Pride’s Chelsea Goodacre followed Chamberlain’s bomb with a single up the middle, knocking Ford from the game and giving way to LSU-product Rachele Fico, who escaped the inning unscathed.

[More from Excelle Sports: A.J. Andrews wins first-ever softball Gold Glove]

Ricketts, Chamberlain’s college teammate, settled down in the second inning after facing a bases-loaded jam in the first, which came as a result of her hitting two straight batters with one out before striking out the next two.

“I definitely had a lot of adrenaline coming into this game,” said Ricketts, a 2013 Oklahoma graduate who went 6–5 with a 2.64 ERA in the regular season, her fourth in the league. “A lot of adrenaline can go one of two ways.”

And Ricketts’ adrenaline eventually went in her favor on Friday night. The two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year avoided another potentially tumultuous situation in the top of the fifth after giving up a lead-off double to A.J. Andrews, who won softball’s first-ever Gold Glove Award on Thursday. Andrews advanced to third base on a sharp line drive to right field, but failed to score when NPF Rookie of the Year Sami Fagan grounded out to first base to end the top half of the inning. That was the last time Ricketts faced any trouble, as she finished with a complete-game shutout, scattering four hits and collecting three strikeouts.

[More from Excelle Sports: Abbott, Kretschman headline 2016 NPF Awards]

Following Chamberlain’s blast, the Pride bats were shut down by the relief efforts of Fico and later Aimee Creger, who entered in the bottom of the fourth inning and went the rest of the way for the Racers.

Despite improving its 2016 record to 11–0 against the Racers with the win on Friday, first-year Pride head coach Lonni Alameda says her team is approaching Saturday’s Game 2 with the same mindset it has had for every game this season.

“[It’s] another softball game,” said Alameda, who is looking to lead the Pride to their fourth Cowles Cup in franchise history. “It’s so not outcome-oriented right now, it’s just process. If we keep the mindset of being present pitch by pitch, we’re going to be OK.”

The Pride and Racers will meet for Game 2 of the best-of-three opening-round series on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, with the if necessary game scheduled for 9 p.m. ET. A win Saturday would secure the Pride a spot in the championship round, which begins Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

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