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Cathi Aradi

Pride Win First Game Of NPF Finals In Eight Innings

HOOVER, Ala. -- USSSA Pride first baseman GiOnna DiSalvatore singled with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth to give the Pride a 1-0 win over the Akron Racers in the opening game of the best-of-three final for the NPF Championship Series on Friday at the Hoover Met.

Pride pitcher Cat Osterman, the NPF Pitcher of the Year, was dominant early with seven strikeouts through the first four innings.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Pride had a scoring opportunity after a single by right fielder Kelly Kretschman, but on a single by designated player Amanda Kamekona, but leftfielder Jill Barrett threw out pinch runner Breja’e Washington at the plate.

Racers starting pitcher Rachele Fico worked out of a jam in the first. With one out, Pride centerfielder Caitlin Lowe had a ground-rule double to right, then shortstop Madison Shipman walked. With runners on first and second and just one out, Fico struck out USSSA third baseman Andrea Duran and got a fielder’s choice to end the Pride’s half of the inning.

The game was not without controversy. In the top of the fifth, third baseman Kelley Montalvo singled to lead off for the Racers. With two outs, rightfielder Ayumi Karino appeared to reach on an infield error when a high pop-up dropped between Osterman, Duran and Shipman. When the play ended, Montalvo was on third and Karino stood on second. However, the umpires held a lengthy meeting and then ruled that Montalvo had interfered with Pride second baseman Courtney Ceo and Montalvo was called out to end the Pride’s inning.

The Racers threatened again in the sixth. Barrett reached on an error by Shipman, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Nerissa Myers. First baseman Charlotte Morgan reached on another error by Shipman, then pinchrunner Olivia Watkins stole second. With runners on second and third and just one out, Osterman struck out designated player Jessica Garcia and then got out of the inning on a nice play by Duran who fielded a line drive off the bat of center fielder Taylor Schlopy after it bounced off Osterman’s leg.

While Osterman allowed just two hits and struck out 11 batters through seven innings, Fico was up to the task as well for Akron, scattering six hits through the first six innings.. The game was scoreless after seven innings and went to extra innings. Through the first seven innings, both teams had stranded six runners; Akron had two hits, while the Pride had six.

Osterman picked up her 12th strikeout of the game, retiring the Racers in order in the top of the eighth.

Then in the bottom of the eighth, Pride leftfielder Natasha Watley left off with a single. After a sacrifice by Lowe, Shipman singled, advancing Watley to third. Sharonda McDonald pinch ran for Shipman; Duran was intentionally walked to load the bases. Then on a 1-1 count with the bases loaded and one out, first baseman GiOnna DiSalvatore singled to center, driving in Watley with the winning run.

Osterman earned the victory, her second of the championship series; she extended her scoreless inning streak in the series to 13 innings. For the game, Osterman allowed just two hits in her eight innings, with one walk and one hit batter; Osterman struck out 12 for the game. Fico took the loss, allowing one run in eight innings on nine hits; Fico had two walks and two strikeouts in seven and a third innings of work.

Akron and USSSA will meet in the second game of the final series today at 2 p.m. ET at the Hoover Met. If Akron wins, the third and deciding game will follow at 4:30 p.m.

-- courtesy National Pro Fastpitch