AKRON, Ohio - Nearly 3,500 fans poured into Firestone Stadium to watch the Akron Racers final home game of the 2009 regular season against the Chicago Bandits, and they were all treated to a classic back and forth game that followed the pattern of the entire series between the two teams.
The crowd was the largest ever to witness the Racers take on another NPF team. Crystl Bustos supplied the Racers (18-12) with a needed boost to help her team end a two-game losing streak at the hands of the Bandits and earn Akron a 7-6 win. In a continuation of the weekly pre-game home run derby in the NPF, known as Battle of the Bats, the Racers and Bandits (22-7) both hit three home runs, including two by Bustos and two by Chicago outfielder Nicole Trimboli.
Bustos didn't take long to make Chicago feel her impact as she crushed a two run homer to right field in the bottom of the first inning. Bustos also drove in Lisa Modglin on the long ball, who got the Racers started with a base hit to left field. The Racers would hold that lead until the fourth inning, as Angela Tincher showed early control allowing Chicago's lead off hitter in the first three innings to get a base hit, but stranded them all three times.
Tincher's ability to hold off the Bandits wore off in the fourth inning. Instead of a base hit, Trimboli began the inning with a home run to the right-center field gap. Samantha Findlay followed Trimboli with a home run of her own to tie the game 2-2. Chicago continued their offensive onslaught in the top of the fifth inning where they scored four runs, including a three run homer by Trimboli, and knocked Tincher out of the game with the Bandits leading 6-2.
As to be expected with this series, Chicago's lead didn't last long as Akron came back in the bottom of the inning with four runs of their own. Kenora Posey greeted Eileen Canney, who came on in relief at the start of the fifth inning, with a one out infield single. Modglin then followed with a line drive that flew over the left field fence to make the game 6-4 in favor of Chicago. Two batters later Bustos launched a homer to center field to tie the game. Bustos' home run ended Canney's short day, as the Bandit allowed four runs on four hits, two home runs, while only recording one out.
The Racers then came back in the bottom of the sixth inning to add the deciding run, thanks in part to some bad defense by the Bandits. Jenny Topping earned a walk to lead off for Akron. Manager Barb Sherwood then turned to her bench and Sari-Jane Jenkins to pinch run for Topping. During Sam Ricketts at-bat that followed Topping, Chicago catcher, Rachel Folden, attempted to pick off Jenkins. Instead, the throw sailed into foul territory down the right field line. After advancing to second on the throwing error, Jenkins got to third base when the right fielder, Trimboli, threw the ball across the infield and towards the Bandits dugout. With Jenkins now on third, Ricketts grounded the ball to shortstop Tammy Williams. Williams tried to throw Jenkins out at home, but the throw was too late and the Racers to the deciding 7-6 lead.
After Bustos' big day, the former Olympian stood alone at the top of the NPF leader board in batting average (.427), home runs (8) and RBIs (24).
Lisa Norris (6-4) picked up her sixth win in relief for the Racers. That number ties her for best on the team with Tincher and places both of them in a five way tie for second place in the league. Norris was also the only pitcher out of the five on the night for both teams to not allow a run. She pitched 2.2 innings allowing two hits and striking out three. Tincher picked up a rare no decision as the Racer gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks, while striking out five in 4.1 innings in the circle.
Kristina Thorson (6-5) picked up a tough loss as she allowed one unearned run without allowing a hit, one walk and one strike out in 1.2 innings of work. Brandice Balschmiter got the start for Chicago and went four innings allowing two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out a pair of Racers.
With tonight's win the Racers became the first team to win a series against the first place Bandits in 2009. The Chicago Bandits are off next week, before hosting the Akron Racers in what will be Akron's final action of the 2009 regular season. Before the Racers get there though, they host the USSSA Pride in the final home series of 2009 for Akron. For ticket information contact the Racers' ticket office at 330-376-8188 or order your tickets online at www.akronracers.org.