Quick start propels Pride to sweep of Racers, berth in NPF championship round

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Following a day in which weather and scheduling mishaps prevented the USSSA Pride from taking the field, the NPF’s regular-season champions picked up on Sunday right where they left off on Friday against the Akron Racers. In Game 2 of their opening-round set in the NPF Championship Series at Rhoads Stadium, the Pride eliminated the fourth-seeded Racers with a 6–2 win, advancing to the best-of-three championship round.

With Pride starter and All-NPF selection Jolene Henderson working a perfect top of the first, USSSA got things going offensively in the bottom of the frame when walks to Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman and Lauren Chamberlain set up an RBI opportunity for Chelsea Goodacre. The second-year NPF player delivered, knocking a single up the middle to score Kretschman from second base. An error by Rookie of the Year Sami Fagan followed, allowing Chamberlain to score from second to give the Pride a 2–0 lead.

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“This entire season, the team has hit so well, so regardless of [getting the lead] early or late, I know it’s going to come,” Henderson told Excelle Sports following the game.

But the bats for both teams went cold for the next three innings until back-to-back singles by Fagan and Taylor Schlopy gave the Racers a quick start in the fourth. But a strikeout of Sam Fischer and a base-running blunder by Fagan resulted in an inning-ending double play to quell the threat.

A similar jam was experienced by Akron starter Sarah Pauly in the bottom of the frame, as a base hit by Goodacre started the home half of the fourth. Sierra Romero then beat out a ground ball to Fagan at shortstop for an infield single to put runners on first and second base for hometown hero Haylie McCleney, who sacrifice bunted both runners over 60 feet. But a strikeout of pinch hitter GiOnna DiSalvatore kept the score at a two-run differential.

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The bats came alive for the Pride in the fifth, however, as they scored four runs upon seeing 56 pitches and three Akron pitching changes in the inning, highlighted by a monster, solo blast to right field off the bat of All-NPF selection Megan Wiggins to lead off the frame.

Chelsea Thomas entered for Henderson in the sixth, allowing a two-out single to Schlopy, followed by a two-run home run to Fischer to narrow the lead to four runs. But the Racers went quietly the rest of the way, allowing the Pride to advance and continue their quest for a fourth Cowles Cup.

Henderson was superb in the win, tossing five shutout innings with three strikeouts, while Pauly was charged with the loss, affording four hits and two earned runs in four innings of work. The USSSA pitching staff, which went 12–0 against the Racers in 2016, limited Akron to just two runs in the series.

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The Pride will now encounter a quick turnaround, as they are set to face the victor of Sunday afternoon’s winner-take-all game between the Scrap Yard Dawgs and Chicago Bandits in Game 1 of the championship round later Sunday night.

“I definitely think we’re prepared for it,” Romero told Excelle Sports regarding Sunday’s doubleheader. “We had a lot of doubleheaders this season, especially late in the season, so we know how to handle them. Plus, this is the championships now, so we’ll have even more of an edge.”

The championship round is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network.

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