LOWELL, Mass. Pitching dominated throughout the inaugural National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) womens professional softball regular season and arguably the top two staffs will go head-to-head in next weeks best-of-three playoffs between the first-place Texas Thunder (42-17) and fourth-place New England Riptide (25-35) in Akron.
Were happy to be one of the four teams in the playoffs, New England Riptide owner/general manager Joe Adlman said. Anything can happen in a short series like this. Everybodys expecting pitching duels. They have a little more hitting for us, but were up for the challenge.
The Riptide has a strong one-two pitching punch in right-hander Jocelyn Forest (14-10, 1.29 ERA) and southpaw Leigh Ann Ellis (4-11, 1.77 ERA). Forest, who two years ago led her California at Berkeley club to the NCAA Division 1 World Series Championship, led NPF this season in strikeouts (162) and complete games (20). She was third in victories (14), fourth in starts (20), and eighth in ERA. Ellis, signed out of South Florida, has a hard-luck record. She had the 11th lowest ERA and seventh most strikeouts (114) in NPF.
Jocelyn has pitched some great games for us this year and shes ready for the playoffs coming off a 5-0 win in our last game against Akron, Adlman noted. Shes at the top of her game and has won four or five of her last appearances. Leigh Ann has pitched much better than her record may indicate. She was 2-9 at the break, but the other coaches in the league recognized her ability and named her to the all-star team. Shed have a lot more wins if wed hit better for her.
Texas is loaded on the mound, powered by two-time Olympic gold pitcher (15-6, 0.61 ERA) Christa Williams (UCLA/Texas), who, ironically, played on Team USA in 1996 and 2000 when current New England Riptide head coach, Ralph Raymond, coached the unbeaten Americans. (13-3, 0.89 ERA) Peaches James (Nebraska), former Big 12 Player of the Year and Tournament, and (10-6, 1.06 ERA) Lindsay Chouinard (DePaul,) give The Thunder three of the top 10 hurlers in NPF.
The Thunder averaged one more run per game than The Riptide, 3.2-2.2, and batted 36 points higher, .224-.188.
The Riptide struggled at the plate during the regular season with designated player Sara Jewett (Maine) the clubs leading hitter with a .211 average. Shortstop Tara Knudsen (Georgia Tech) came on in the second half and finished as the team leader (or co-leader) with 16 RBI, eight doubles, one triple and three home runs. Centerfielder LaDonia Hughes (LSU) led The Riptide in hits (42) and stolen bases (8).
Texas has speed and power. Table-setting outfielder Kristen Zaleski (Texas State) led NPF in stolen bases (16), finished third in batting (.300) and hits (54), and fourth in runs scored (27). Infielder Clare Burnum (Oregon State) was second in home runs (5), Selena Collins (Texas A & M) fourth with four; utility player Lyndsey Gardner (Texas) and Ryan Realmuto (Oklahoma State) tied in seventh with three apiece. Burnum was second in stolen bases (15) and second baseman Elizabeth Bouck (DePaul) seventh (10).
2004 NPF Playoffs & Championship Series
(all games played at Firestone Stadium, Akron)
Semifinals Round (Best-of-three) Akron Racers (39-21) vs. NY/NJ Juggernaut (39-21) @ 6 p.m., Aug. 25-26-27 (if necessary)
Texas Thunder (42-17) vs. New Riptide (25-35) @ 8 p.m., Aug. 25-26-27 (if necessary)
Championship Series (Best-of-three) Racers/Juggernaut winner vs. Thunder/Riptide winner
Game 1 Aug. 28 @ 7 p.m.
Game 2 Aug. 29 @ 4 p.m.
Game 3 (if necessary) Aug. 29 @ 6 p.m.
For more information about the NPF playoffs call 866.474.7843 or visit the teams web site at www.neriptide.com.