LOWELL, Mass. The New England Riptide came within one victory of capturing the inaugural National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) womens professional softball championship.
The Riptide, fourth place finisher in the six-team NPF, finished the regular season with a 25-35 record. None of their players won NPF awards and they had the least amount of all-stars of any team, pitchers Jocelyn Forest (Cal Berkeley) and Leigh Ann Ellis (South Florida). Never the less, New England qualified for the inaugural NPF playoffs and was rewarded with a best-of-three series against the regular season league champion Texas Thunder (41-17) in Akron.
The Thunder took the playoff opener, 4-1, and on the brink of elimination, The Riptide got a grand slam from shortstop Tara Knudsen (Georgia Tech) off NPF Pitcher of the Year, Christa Williams, and Ellis limited the hard-hitting Thunder to only five hits in New Englands 4-2 win. In the rubber match Riptide catcher Jess Allister (Stanford) belted a three-run homer off all-star hurler Peaches James, while pitcher Megan Matthews (South Carolina) pitched 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball, before Forrest finished up in a thrilling 3-0 triumph and trip to the NPF championship.
It was very exciting, Lauri Adlman, co-owner of The Riptide with her husband Joe, commented on the Thunder series. I felt going into the playoffs that anything could happen. Im proud we knocked off the first place team and that showed how all the team are good and fairly equal. We played a whole season and then our hitting came through at the right time in the playoffs. All three of our pitchers were very good, holding down a team like the Thunder with all of those big bats.
The best-of-three championship format was changed after rain postponed Saturday nights first game and threat of more inclement weather, along with additional economic considerations, to one game winner take all -- Sunday to decide the NPF championship and Cowles Cup.
The NY/NJ Juggernaut and Akron Racers had finished the regular season tied in second place with identical 39-31 records. The Nauts won the playoffs and were favored in the championship game against geographical rival New England. The Riptide had lost 11 of 12 regular season games to NY/NJ, but seven of those losses were by one run, four in extra innings, including a record 27-inning contest.
We had the odds in our favor and this game I thought wed win, Adlman said. But our pitchers didnt settle down and struggled throughout the game. Who knows what would have happened if it had been a best-of-three series? It was a fair decision, though. More heavy rains were coming, plane tickets had been purchased, and there was really no other way to play it. Anything could have happened in one game.
We proved what kind of team we were beating Texas and we have quite a rivalry going with NY/NJ. The irony is we played so many close games against the Juggernaut and then the championship game was a blow out (10-1). I always looked at us as an ensemble team, a good collection of players with no big stars. Our players came through at different times of the season and put it all together against Texas. Everything ended on a good note except for that loss in the last game.