Game one of the NPF Championship Series looked like a pitchers' duel between the Scrap Yard Dawgs' Monica Abbott and the USSSA Pride's Jolene Henderson, until it wasn't.
The two combined to allow three hits through 4 1/2 innings before the Pride's Megan Wiggins smashed a two-run home run to center field to break through on the scoreboard and spark the Pride's 5-0 win on Saturday at LSU's Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, LA.
With the victory, the Pride only need to win one game on Sunday to claim the 2017 NPF Championship. Game two of the series will be played at 1 PM in Tiger Park, and a follow-up game if necessary will take place at 4 PM.
"I personally don't think I did much," said Henderson, who registered six strikeouts in her third complete-game shutout of the season. "I think my team did everything. I feed off of them in every way. Their at-bats, I feed off of the defense, I feed off of their confidence. So the team tonight was amazing, and they gave me all the confidence and they did it all."
Each team had its fair share of chances to get a runner across early in the game.
In the top of the first, Dawgs' center fielder Alexis Bennett tried to stretch a double into a triple but was thrown out on the relay from shortstop Shelby Pendley.
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The Pride had an opportunity of their own after Wiggins singled to lead off the bottom of the frame but was caught attempting to steal second.
In the second inning, Henderson quickly worked through the Dawgs' batters for three outs. Meanwhile, Abbott hit a batter with a pitch and walked another before escaping the inning. Abbott's slight loss of command would be indicative of things to come later in the game.
Both pitchers allowed a runner to reach the base path in the third but locked down on the mound and prevented any more damage.
The fourth inning was another fruitless effort for hitters against Henderson and Abbott. Abbott finished off the inning by striking out the three straight batters after a leadoff walk. The three strikeouts brought Abbott's tally up to nine for the game, but it would be her last bright spot before falling apart in the bottom of the fifth.
After another 1-2-3 effort by Henderson, Abbott started the inning by hitting the Pride's eight-hole hitter Kirsti Merritt with a pitch. Following a sacrifice bunt by third baseman Courtney Ceo, Wiggins finally opened the scoring with her home run, and the inning went further downhill for Abbott afterwards. She gave up two consecutive singles before being removed from the game in favor of Cheridan Hawkins, who immediately allowed a three-run homer to Pendley on the first pitch.
After Hawkins walked two more batters, Morgan Foley came on in relief and finished the inning, which ended on a sliding stop by shortstop Ali Aguilar, who tossed ball over to second baseman Hannah Flippen for the force out.
"I think the Pride is an excellent offensive team," Abbott said. "I felt like I was continuously pounding the zone, and I was maybe missing a little bit here and there. I'm human too, and I missed a pitch and it went over the fence."
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With 5-0 lead and Henderson on the mound, things looked bleak for the Dawgs. However, the Scrap Yard Dawgs were able to get two runners on base after two singles in the top of the sixth inning. With two outs and two runners on, third baseman Kasey Cooper grounded out to second base, ending the attempted rally for the Dawgs.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Pride attempted to add to their lead after a one-out walk and a bunt single. Dawgs pitcher Miranda Kramer escaped danger and got two more outs to give the Dawgs one more chance.
In the top of seventh, Flippen reached first base following an error, but that would be it for the Scrap Yard Dawgs.
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Henderson finished the game by striking out two of the final three batters she faced.
"I felt like we came out aggressive, did the things we needed to do early in the game, and some things didn't go our way," Dawgs manager Gerry Glasco said. "As the game went on, Monica gave us five innings to score to take the lead and take control of the game. We just kept coming up short and couldn't get that run across."
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