USSSA Pride and Chicago Bandits Tangle Thursday Night in Viera

USSSA Pride and Chicago Bandits Tangle Thursday Night in Viera

Some of you know of my love for sports and for softball in particular. Last night two of the best teams in National Pro Fastpitch met at Space Coast Stadium in Viera. The rain-delayed contest ended with the Pride on top, 3-0. Pride slugger Lauren Chamberlain went yard twice on Kaia Parnaby, the Bandit’s rookie hurler in her professional debut. Both shots were no-doubters; Bandits outfielders took a step or two and then watched those bright yellow spheres sail on through the night sky.

These are good times for fans, supporters and players of the game of softball. As many of you may know, softball and baseball will be played in the Olympic Games again in Tokyo in 2020. See my posting on that IOC decision from back on August 6, 2016 if you’d like.

Though it may be true that professional softball is small potatoes compared to big league baseball, the N.P.F. is working hard to keep the sport thriving. The USSSA Pride is the league’s showcase team and if you’re a fan here in the Central Florida area, their home field, Space Coast Stadium, is just down the road. Well, just take exit 195 from I-95 and you’re there!

I’ve been in Florida for a very, very long time and I really don’t like those nasty, sticky, scorching summers we all learn to endure down here. Trips to the beach and the ballpark are my two best strategies to thrive and survive while we wait for the arrival of milder temps and fall sports! It’s working for me!

See you at the ballpark!

 

Ballpark Bulldog Ben

 

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

 

 

 

UCF Softballers Bash UConn in Home Finale

UCF Softballers Bash UConn in Home Finale

What you’re seeing in the featured photo is a softball about a millisecond before Knights catcher Cassady Brewer crushes it into the stands in right-center field. I caught that first inning shot, it was the first of the two round-trippers she smacked on Sunday afternoon.

The second was a walk off grand slam, which triggered an immediate 9-0 run rule victory for the Knights in the sixth. UConn bested them on Friday night with two grand slams of their own; UCF’s intrepid softball squad took game two on Saturday and yesterday’s convincing win gave them that badly-needed 2-1 series edge.

I did not catch Cassady’s coup de grâce on film. I had put my camera away by then. I just wanted the luxury of watching the game without being in my usual “don’t miss this next shot” mode, and so I stashed my pride and joy in the car. That’ll teach me! Of course, merely seeing it with my eyes is still one of the best moments of the 2017 season! (If you’d like to read my posting about an earlier round-tripper from Brewer, one that bested Baylor, catch the one dated March 20 of this year.)

This was the last home game for the Knights. Sad to see the season wrapping up. There are four more regular season games, a single tilt with BCC in Daytona on Wednesday. And then a three game series in Tulsa with the Golden Hurricane. And when the AAC Tournament kicks off, Tulsa may well be the team to beat; but you can bet that the Knights will show up in Greenville ready to play.

UCF had/is having a decent season — their record after Sunday stands at 25-21, falling far short of last year’s campaign. The 2016 squad made it to the regional play-offs last May where they beat FAU twice but were eliminated by the Gators. I traveled up to G’ville for that tourney and enjoyed it immensely in spite of the Knights not advancing.

As this season winds down, let me contrast the current season with last year’s to shed a bit more light on recent UCF softball history. The 2016 incarnation of the Knights was really good, finishing 38-22 and delighting UCF fans all over Central Florida. The only down side: the team graduated eight seniors including ace pitcher Shelby Turnier, catcher and power hitter Samantha McCloskey and slugger Jamie Ujvary. Shelby — as you may know if you follow the sport — had a stellar first season at the pro level with the Chicago Bandits of National Pro Fastpitch.

It was apparent to most fans that the Knights would have a hard time topping last year’s season and so their 25-21 record at this point with four regular season games left is not a bad 2017 campaign. As far as how UCF’s softballers may fare in the future, there are no fewer than nine freshmen on the squad, including a gaggle of pitchers who show a lot of promise, so I’m looking for great things from UCF moving forward. And in the meantime, the results of Sunday’s outing will send the squad into their last series and the AAC tourney ready to show their stuff.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

Noles Beat Knights 4-0 in Wednesday Softball Action

Noles Beat Knights 4-0 in Wednesday Softball Action

I do follow softball and this was a contest not-to-be-missed. The home town Knights of UCF were hosting the no. 1 ranked team in the country in the Seminoles of Florida State. It was a good contest but in the end, Seminole bats overpowered UCF’s pitching and Seminole fans drove back to Tallahassee with smiles on their (often) painted faces.

UCF pitcher Alea White had bested the nation’s 15th ranked team five days earlier — that would be the Bears of Baylor — but FSU is no. 1 for a reason. Or reasons, I should say, and Alea White pitched well enough to beat some Div I teams, but the Noles can hit the ball like very few other squads and their eight hits translated into four runs. This time out, the Knights had no answer.

Cassidy Brewer, the hero of that third contest with Baylor had two hits, but the rest of the line-up together produced only two more. And against the Noles, that’s not enough.

In the top of the 7th, the DH for FSU, Zoe Casas, spanked a homer to right field, just inside the foul line that carried way, way over the 200′ mark. FSU head coach  Lonni Alameda does a splendid job as the skipper for Florida State and coaches for the USSSA Pride in the Pro ranks, too. If you polled folks who know their softball about who’s the best coach in the game, I’d be a little shocked if Lonni would not come out on top. And I’d bet a month’s rent that hitting is her no. 1 criterion when she and her staff are recruiting.

UCF is back in action on the diamond tomorrow, March 24th when they host the Houston Cougars. It is a conference game. The first pitch will be thrown at 5:30PM.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

Photo credit Benjamin Lawrence Basile

Excellent Article on ESPN Sportscaster Jessica Mendoza

Like so many big-time sports fans, I spend quite a bit of time watching ESPN. The variety of programming on the network’s five channels is extraordinary. Sunday Night Baseball is one of the ESPN productions I especially like. It’s got a large audience. And I think it’s safe to say that the SNB regulars lean towards the traditional side, as is true of baseball fans in general.

Former softball great Jessica Mendoza is the most recent addition to the SNB broadcast team. Some ESPN viewers were less than pleased with the change. To help give some context, a quick run-down on Jess for those of you who aren’t softball fans: she had a stellar career as an outfielder for the Stanford Cardinals from 1999 – 2003 and helped lead Stanford to their only softball College World Series appearance in her senior campaign. Jessica was no slouch with a glove but was especially known for her stellar hitting skills; she still ranks in the NCAA top-ten in four hitting categories: doubles, triples, RBI’s and walks.

Her career continued as an Olympian for Team USA. The Americans took the gold in Athens in 2004 and the silver four years later in Beijing; Jessica’s considerable skills at the plate were one of our softball squad’s most potent weapons.

National Pro Fastpitch is the only professional softball league in the U.S., and Jessica had a fine career at the professional level as well, playing for the now-defunct Arizona Heat and the USSSA Pride, the squad based out of Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports. That fine facility at Disney is perhaps best known as the home field for the Atlanta Braves for preseason (spring) baseball.

Jessica was not new to ESPN at the time she was tapped for a slot on SNB. The story of how she came to join the crew full-time after a clearly racist tweet from Curt Schilling is well-known to many baseball fans. I think Jessica is a fine addition to the Sunday Night line-up and I don’t feel at all as though it’s some sort of tokenism on the part of ESPN management. Not by a long shot. Ms. Mendoza has paid her dues and is an excellent fit. And although not a few fans — and even some players — are not happy that a woman has joined the Sunday Night team, I think she’ll continue to earn high marks for her work on America’s premier sports network.

Kayla Lombardo is an Associate Editor for Excelle Sports, a net zine that covers womens’ sports. Her fine feature on Jessica and her work for ESPN came out this last Thursday; I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s common knowledge that womens’ sports receives just a tiny fraction of the coverage the men get. And let’s get real: that is not going to change anytime in the near future. Perhaps it never will.

That being the case, it’s such a good thing that there are publications like Excelle Sports. I’ve been very impressed to see how well they have the scene covered. If you do have an interest in womens’ athletics, Kayla’s article on Jessica Mendoza could be a great introduction to the work done by Excelle. To read Ms. Lombardo’s fine and in-depth article, just follow this link.

Hooray for womens’ athletics! And for Jessica Mendoza. And ESPN. They contribute greatly to the sports scene here in America and beyond.

Now excuse me as I get off the net and tune to Fox to catch game five of the 2016 World Series. I’m hoping the Cubs can keep alive their hopes for ending the curse and taking it all! Their chances don’t look all that good, to be frank. I enjoy the Series so much more when it goes all the way to seven games. If it doesn’t this year, I could bear the disappointment much better if Dan, Aaron Boone and Jessica were calling the game!

The Chicago Bandits Do It Again

The Chicago Bandits Do It Again

On Tuesday night the Chicago Bandits took the Cowles Cup for the second straight year. I know that Professional softball is not on the typical sports fan’s radar, but I’m a serious fan of the game and watching the National Pro Fastpitch Championship was pure delight!

Those of you who know me from the real world, know that I have long roots in Central Florida; a part of my interest in the NPF league stems from the fact that the Chicago Bandits took former UCF pitcher Shelby Turnier in last year’s draft; I just loves me some Knights sports! She was the first pick in the second round, eleventh overall. Shelby had a very good year as an NPF frosh and really shined in the post-season.

Turnier got nine innings of work in three games in the NPF playoffs and didn’t allow a single run. Her ERA was 3.69 at the end of the regular season and shrank to 3.22 with her strong performances against the Scrap Yard Dawds and the front-running USSSA Pride.

As a staff, the Bandits performed well overall. Angel Bunner was solid — as was Michelle Gascoigne — but when you look at the stats, Shelby was on fire. She has positioned herself as one of the best relievers in the business, and she — and the Bandits organization — have to be very pleased with her inaugural season.

For more about National Pro Fastpitch, the only Womens’ Professional softball league in the U.S., follow this link.

 

Photo UCF Athletics used with permission