TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Back-to-back home runs and a gritty pitching performance from Angel Bunner lifted the Chicago Bandits to a 2-1 victory over the USSSA Pride in the finale of NPF Championship Series, Tuesday night in front of 457 at Rhoads Stadium. The victory completed a two-game comeback by the Bandits (27-27), who hoisted the Cowles Cup for the second straight season and fourth time overall.
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Consecutive solo shots in the third inning by catcher Taylor Edwards and outfielder Brittany Cervantes were all the runs Bunner (3-3) needed. The journeyman southpaw, who had played for three previous teams and sat out all of 2015 and a good portion of this season (signed July 1), scattered eight hits over six innings of work with one strikeout and one walk.
“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.”
Cervantes, who is featured in this year’s NFCA Top Recruit, was named Most Valuable Player of the championship series after batting over .500 in the playoffs with three homers and six RBI. She recorded a hit in all six games of the playoffs.
The comeback by Chicago came just days after defeating former teammate and 2016 Pitcher of the Year Monica Abbott and the Scrap Yard Dawgs in a best-of-three semifinal series.
The only damage against Bunner was league Player of the Year Kelly Kretschman’s solo long ball in the fifth to make it a one-run game. However, she would regroup and held the 40-win Pride off the board.
“We just trusted her (Bunner) to keep us in the game,” said Steuerwald. “Signing (Bunner) was a big key to turning our season around. We needed to do something. At the point we were at in the season, we had to take a shot and see what she could do.”
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 put the Pride on the board and cut the Chicago lead to 2-1.
“At this point, I told (coach Lonni Alameda) I’ll rip it in half if I have to,” Kretschman said.
Bunner regrouped and finished strong through six innings and then handed the ball over to rookie Shelby Turnier. Turnier, perhaps the most unheralded postseason performer for the Bandits, shut the door in the seventh with a 1-2-3 frame, including retiring former Bandit Megan Wiggins on a pop out to end the game. She finished the postseason not allowing a single run in nine innings of work while allowing just five hits with 10 strikeouts.
“(Turnier’s) got ice water in her veins for a rookie,” Steuerwald said. “She was just phenomenal. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion out there. I think that’s what makes her really successful.”
The game ended with Kretschman on deck.
“I always want to be in that spot,” said the NPF’s first-ever Triple Crown hitter.
Chicago’s Jill Barrett, who went 2-for-3 in game three and finished with a .318 clip for the championship series, harkened back to the Bandits being a unit.
“Here in Chicago, it’s one through 23,” Barrett, who was acquired over the offseason from the Akron Racers in a trade, said. “(Emily) Allard makes it 24 of us.”
Keilani Ricketts (8-6) suffered the loss as she gave up the two runs on five hits in 4 1/2 innings. Jordan Taylor kept the Bandits at bay the rest of the contest. She tossed 2 2/3 innings of no-hit ball relief for the Pride.
Note: A total of event attendance of 7,408 is a new league record.
— Courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch and Chicago Bandits