As if USSSA Pride hurler Jolene Henderson wasn’t wreaking enough havoc with the Chicago Bandits lineup during the first three innings of Thursday night’s opening game of the National Profastpitch Championship, things managed to get worse for the Bandits when Jailyn Ford stepped into the circle.
Ford entered the game in the fourth inning to relieve Henderson and went on to strike out nine of the next 13 Bandits hitters to give the Pride a 3-0 win, and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series at Parkway Bank Stadium, in Rosemont, Illinois.
The pregame matchup between Henderson, the 2019 NPF Pitcher of the Year, and Bandits ace Rachele Fico staged a showdown featuring two of the four NPF hurlers who had no-hitters in their stat lines for the season.
After two relatively smooth innings, Fico surrendered her only run to the Pride offense on a manufactured run in the third inning.
Pride center fielder Allexis Bennett led off the frame with a line drive up the middle just beyond the reach of Fico. Then Pride Head Coach Gerry Glasco gave shortstop Sydney Romero the “green light” to make the call on the next pitch.
In a rare move from the NPF’s leader in hits, Romero dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance Bennett to second, and Shelby Pendley followed with a squibbed grounder to the gap between first and second. The slow-developing play allowed the speedy Bennett to score from second before the throw from first could reach the plate.
Although Henderson appeared to be settling in, Glasco looking to Ford in the middle innings has been a strategy all season for the Pride, and it once again proved to be an effective move.
The Bandits had a pair of chances to get to the Pride pitching but weren’t able to capitalize.
After a lead-off walk to 2019 NPF Player of the Year Amanda Chidester in the first inning, an infield single by Brenna Moss and an Abbey Cheek fielder’s choice left runners on first and third with just one out, Henderson got Hannah Flippen to ground into a textbook 6-4-3 double play to end the early surge from the Bandits.
In the bottom of the fifth, Abby Ramirez was hit by a 2-2 offering from Ford and advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches with just one out. Ford then fanned both Chidester and Moss to squelch the threat.
After Fico gave up a two-out double to Kelly Kretschman in the top of the sixth, Bandits head coach Lauren Lappin brought in lefty Danielle O’Toole in relief.
To counter, Glasco sent right-handed hitting rookie Shay Knighten to hit for the lefty Emily Carosone. Knighten singled the eighth pitch of the at-bat up the middle to score pinch-runner Keeli Milligan and advanced to second on the throw.
In another righty-lefty move from Glasco, Bianka Bell came in to hit for Alex Powers and singled to left field to score Megan Good, who came in to run for Knighten. Bell advanced to second on the throw, and then to third while the Bandits were protesting the close call at the plate.
Alexa Petersen continued the pinch-hit run, but popped out to catcher Gwen Svekis to end the rally — but the damage had been done, both on the board and in the dugouts.
Ford struck out the Bandits in order in the sixth, and after a Courtney Gano comebacker for the first out in the seventh, struck out the final two hitters to close out the game.
The typically potent Bandit offense was held to just two hits — one each from Moss and Ramirez, while the Pride scattered seven hits from seven different hitters. Pendley, Knighten, and Bell were all credited with an RBI each.
Henderson and Ford equally split the work for the Pride, each facing 13 hitters. Henderson fanned one while giving up two hits and walking two. Ford was dominant, striking out nine without giving up a hit and just allowing one baserunner on a hit-by-pitch.
Fico allowed four hits in 5.2 innings of work, giving up one run on two hits, walking two and fanning four, while O’Toole allowed three hits and a run in her 0.1 innings of work. Ally Carda finished the game in the circle in the seventh inning striking out one setting the Pride down in order.
The Bandits will be looking to even the series, while the Pride will have their sights set on moving just a game away from a repeat of their Cowles Cup win from last season, as the two rivals will take the field again tonight with a 7 p.m. scheduled first pitch at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois.