WPF Championship Recap: How The Texas Smoke Won Inaugural League Title

WPF Championship Recap: How The Texas Smoke Won Inaugural League Title

Here’s a look at how the Texas Smoke won the first WPF title, as America’s top professional softball league closed out on a strong first season.

Aug 14, 2023 by Briar Napier
WPF Championship Recap: How The Texas Smoke Won Inaugural League Title

No one can ever take what happened this past weekend at Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama, away from the Texas Smoke.

The inaugural Women’s Professional Fastpitch champions, after winning the league’s Championship Series on Sunday night, the Smoke ensured they would go down in history as establishing the first benchmark of what a WPF team needs to do to succeed.

Winners of the WPF’s regular-season and playoff titles, Texas — a state known for producing top-tier softball talent — added another professional sports championship to its long, gilded history of trophies.

And, if future seasons are anything like the Smoke’s from this summer, where the club dominated much of the major team and individual awards possible, it certainly sounds as if Texas is going to be in front of the pack until further notice.

Here’s a look at how the Texas Smoke won the inaugural WPF title, as America’s top professional softball league closed the curtain on a strong first season on the diamond:

Surging Smoke

Only one team can ever claim to be the first WPF champion, and the team that did it forever will be the Texas Smoke. 

Based out of Austin, Texas was the regular-season champion at 22-14 and earned the top seed in the inaugural playoffs, though its postseason run nearly ended before it could really get started. 

WPF’s playoffs have a best-of-three series in every round — and with four teams in the league for its first season, all teams qualified — and the Smoke found themselves facing elimination in the first round to the fourth-seeded SIS Vipers, who defeated them 2-0 in Game 1 of their opening-round series. 

Back-to-back clutch victories via a 6-4 win in Game 2 and a winner-take-all, 2-1 triumph in the decider, allowed the Smoke to advance, however, and meet the No. 3 seed USSSA Pride in the first Championship Series for all the marbles. 

Game 1 was a 5-4 slugfest that saw the Smoke score a go-ahead, tiebreaking run in the bottom of the sixth inning, thanks to a solo homer from former Texas Longhorn Janae Jefferson, whereas Game 2 — when the Smoke blasted their way to a 14-2 win in the clincher — saw Texas let loose and have a bit more fun. 

Down by a 1-0 margin until the top of the fifth inning, the Smoke erupted for a seven-run fifth, then put seven more across the rest of the way to secure the WPF’s first official championship. 

Nine-hole hitter Madysen Grimm had two home runs with four RBIs during the stretch, and Shelby Sunseri and Alyssa Rivera added homers of their own, all while former Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Autumn Pease tossed a complete-game five-hitter with seven strikeouts to be the winning pitcher in the game to decide the WPF’s first champion. 

Janae’s Jam

If Austin thought it had seen the last of Jefferson on a softball diamond upon her graduation from UT in 2022 — closing out her career with the Longhorns by leading them to a Women’s College World Series runner-up finish — they must’ve been pleased to have seen an encore with the WPF team in town this summer.

UT’s all-time leader in hits and batting average was an animal at the pro level this season, winning the WPF’s Player of the Year award with the Smoke after hitting .438 and finishing with an on-base percentage of .580 as the league’s leader in both statistical categories. 

Jefferson made the WPF’s top-10 regular season leaderboard in every hitting statistic possible except home runs, and to further put into perspective how impressive her average and OBP numbers were, no one else in the league recorded rates of even .400 and .500 or above in those categories, respectively. 

Her production didn’t stop in the playoffs, either: Jefferson was named the Championship Series MVP and batted .500 with nine hits in the Smoke’s five playoff games, four hits more than the next-highest tally, but it was her performance in Game 1 of the title-deciding series — 4-for-4 with three runs, a double, a home run and the go-ahead run/RBI — that gave Texas its crucial opening win and put it at an advantage heading into Game 2, where the relaxed Smoke cruised to take the title. 

Jefferson played more of a support role in Game 2, going 1-for-4 with two runs and a walk, but her impact throughout the WPF’s first season can’t be understated — and it got WPF commissioner and ex-Oklahoma star Lauren Chamberlain to designate her as the best softball player in the world. It’s hard to argue that claim. 

Year 1, Done

Following prior attempts to make a pro softball league work — most notably the Women’s Pro Softball League/National Pro Fastpitch, which folded in 2021 due to financial constraints following the cancellation of two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the WPF, an unrelated league that launched a couple of months after the NPF suspended operations, has waited a long time for the moment it got Sunday when it was able to officially crown its first champion. 

An exhibition season in 2022 led to four teams joining the fold for the WPF’s first official season in 2023, and a successful summer that just concluded signifies that the league — and sport at a professional level — has a bright future ahead of it. 

The star power is there, as former college standouts, such as Oklahoma legends Jocelyn Alo (Division I’s all-time leader in home runs), Keilani Ricketts and Hope Trautwein, among many others from numerous other schools, all play in the league, and investment from big names (including former MLB All-Star Brandon Phillips, who co-owns the Smoke with his partner, professional wrestler Jade Cargill) is coming in, along with optimism that the WPF will be around and thriving for the long haul. 

Combined with the unique setup of Athletes Unlimited Softball, there’s arguably been no better time for professional softball opportunities in the United States, and if the success of the WPF’s first season is any indication, pro softball as a whole might be in good shape for years to come.