OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) almost did something that hasnt happened to Team USA in 162 games, and that is beat them. It was a feat that was almost accomplished on Tuesday night at Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium, when both teams gave the National team all they could handle.
The NPF East All-Stars took the field in the first game against world-renowned pitcher Lisa Fernandez and fell by the final score of 5-0. The game was much closer than the score would indicate, as the East team had several opportunities to take the first lead in the game.
Over the first three innings, the All-Stars from National Pro Fastpitch left five runners on base, including two stranded on third base. The pitching for the East was also very impressive, with Jocelyn Forest (New England) getting the start for the East. Forest breezed through the lineup one time before Team USA finally struck, and struck they did.
In the bottom half of the fourth inning, in front of more that 4,600 fans, Team USA got on the board when Fernandez helped her own cause with a line drive double to the wall in left center to score speedsters Natasha Watley and Leah Amico, who both reached to start the inning on singles. Team USA scored their final three runs of the inning and the game in the same inning thanks to a double from Stacey Nuveman that scored pinch-runner Jaime Clark, and a triple from Jessica Mendoza to score Nuveman and Kelly Kretschman. Kretschman walked and was the last batter that Forest would face in the game. Juggernaut pitcher Gina Oaks gave up the triple to Mendoza and then settled in nicely.
Fernandez showed her dominance in the seventh inning, as she struck out two of the three batters she faced in the inning. With the win, Fernandez improved her record to 13-0 on the season, which is second to only Jennie Finch who has 15 wins on the season.
The West All-Stars came out and gave Team USA everything they could possibly want, as the National team had to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win in extra innings. Judging from the facial and body expressions on the field from Team USA they were in a strange and unusual position, trailing in the late innings.
Texas Thunder and West All-Star starter Peaches James worked out of a jam in the second inning, allowing a single off of the bat of Jenny Topping and a double to Lovieanne Jung. James left the runners stranded on 2nd and 3rd, striking out Amanda Freed and forcing Jessica Mendoza to line out to left field.
On in relief of James with one out in the third, Arizona Heat pitcher Erica Beach allowed consecutive singles to Watley and Leah Amico. Beach forced Crystl Bustos into a fielders choice, cutting down Amico, and got out of the inning by picking off Watley at third.
The West All-Stars got the board in the fourth when Texas Kristen Zaleski singled to center and advanced as Lindsay Gardner, also of the Thunder, laid down a bunt single. Attempting to cut-down Zaleski at 2nd, Finchs throw sailed into center. Zaleski was then awarded third base on players interference on USA shortstop Watley. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Julie Marshall of the California Sunbirds laid down a perfectly executed squeeze bunt to bring in Zaleski, giving the West a 1-0 lead.
Zaleski increased the Wests lead in the fifth when she scorched a triple to deep right center, bringing in Cheryl Bolding (Arizona), who had reached on an infield single. Zaleski came around to score her second run of the game as Gardner lined a single to right, putting the West ahead 3-0, knocking Finch out of the ballgame.
Zaleski and Gardner were the two offensive stars for NPF in game two as they combined to go 5-for-9 in the game. Each player also had an RBI and an extra base hit.
The big offense eventually came off of the bats of Team USA in the sixth inning and then again in the bottom of the ninth inning. Team USA slugger, Bustos, connected for her 24th home run off the season to put her team on the board. Team USA eventually tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, thanks in large part to several defensive blunders; a dropped fly ball in left and a throwing error from the pitcher Christa Williams (Texas).
The game eventually went to the ninth inning, still tied at three runs apiece, before Nuveman ended the game with a two-run home run, her fifth of the season, over the center field fence. The home run made the score 5-3.
Tickets can be purchased by calling ASA at (405) 425-3427 or a ticket order form can be downloaded from the league website at www.profastpitch.com. Tickets for the NPF All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 14th are only $8 or a two-day series ticket can be purchased at the discounted price of $15. Fans unable to attend will be able to listen to the games live by visiting www.npf.prosportsradio.com and clicking on the all-star game logo.
NPF, the worlds premier professional fastpitch softball league for women, consists of six teams located throughout the United States and features former USA Softball Womens National Team members, collegiate All-Americans and all-conference selections. NPFs 60-game regular-season schedule began on Tuesday, June 1 and concludes Wednesday, Aug. 18. The 2004 season features the inaugural NPF All-Star Game, the first-ever NPF Championship Semifinal and the first NPF Championship Series.
National Pro Fastpitch is the only professional womens fastpitch league in the United States. The league is headquartered in Denver, and has been in operation since 1997 under the names Womens Pro Fastpitch (WPF) and Womens Professional Softball League (WPSL).