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updated: 6/6/2012 6:32 PM

Bandits to begin title defense Thursday night

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  • Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott will be back again to lead the NPF team for the 2012 season.

      Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott will be back again to lead the NPF team for the 2012 season.
    Photo courtesy of Dina Kwit/Chicago Bandits

  • This season Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott will be reunited with her former high school coach on the Bandits. The defending NPF champs open the regular season with a four-game homestand starting Thursday at The Ballpark at Rosemont.

      This season Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott will be reunited with her former high school coach on the Bandits. The defending NPF champs open the regular season with a four-game homestand starting Thursday at The Ballpark at Rosemont.
    Photo courtesy of Dina Kwit/Chicago Bandits

  • Last season Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott tossed a perfect game, and later helped her team capture the NPF title in the playoffs.

      Last season Chicago Bandits pitcher Monica Abbott tossed a perfect game, and later helped her team capture the NPF title in the playoffs.
    Photo courtesy of Dina Kwit/Chicago Bandits

  • Alisa Goler, Chicago Bandits third baseman, will be counted on to provide power and defense this season.

      Alisa Goler, Chicago Bandits third baseman, will be counted on to provide power and defense this season.
    Photo courtesy of Chicago Bandits/Jerry Burnes

 
By Caitlin Swieca
cswieca@dailyherald.com

Although the Chicago Bandits claimed the National Pro Fastpitch championship in 2011, the title was not a reflection of the team's regular season.

Last year's Bandits went 20-20 in the regular season, finishing third in the four-team league before capturing the championship with a perfect run in the NPF playoffs.

As the team looks to defend the title, associate head coach Mike Steuerwald wants everyone to focus on improving.

"We finished third in the regular season last year, so we've got a lot to improve on as a team," Steuerwald said. "Returning veterans have emphasized that with new players coming in."

This year the team has made it a goal to win both the regular-season and postseason championships. Their season will begin tonight against the USSSA Pride, the 2011 regular-season champions.

The Bandits will once again be lead by veteran pitcher Monica Abbott, an All-American when she pitched at Tennessee from 2004-07.

"Anytime you have a pitcher like that, with her capabilities, it just makes everyone's job so much easier," Steuerwald said. "From a hitting standpoint, if you can put up a couple runs that game, you're going to be in the game. You can feel a little more ease among the players when you have someone like that in the circle."

This season, Steuerwald will be co-coaching with Keith Berg, Abbott's high school coach. Steuerwald and Berg will coach to their strengths, with Steuerwald concentrating on hitting and Berg working with pitchers.

The pitching staff will feature veterans Abbott and Nikki Nemitz and rookies Meagan Denny-White and Chanda Bell. Steuerwald hopes the veterans will be able to help Denny-White and Bell transition into the league.

"Having two pitchers that are brand new to the league, it's going to be key to have Monica and Nikki guiding them, helping them understand the hitters in the league and how to attack them," he said.

Offensively, the team will rely more on small ball than it has in the past. Tammy Williams and Amber Patton are both slappers who will help get the offense started.

"We have hitters coming back that have pop, and a lot of our veteran hitters have some power, but overall we're a team that has a lot of speed in different spots," Steuerwald said.

The Bandits and Pride will face off at 7:35 p.m. Thursday in Rosemont.

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