Opening night couldn't have started any better for the Chicago Bandits.
The National Pro Fastpitch softball team began the 2017 season Thursday night with a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Akron Racers at The Ballpark at Rosemont.
The Bandits, who are looking to defend their 2016 Cowles Cup title, came out sharp despite the emotions and excitement of not only the beginning of a new season, but starting another year as league champions.
Shortstop Kristen Brown led off the third inning by sending a solo homer over the bleachers in left field to give Chicago a 1-0 lead. Center fielder Breanna Moss' RBI-single would make it a 2-0 game.
The Racers would come back to score a pair of runs after Jennifer Gilbert's RBI double in the top of the sixth inning tied the game at 2-2.
Chicago responded in the bottom of the seventh after giving up the lead late. After the Bandits loaded the bases on three straight singles, second basemen Emily Carosone singled up the middle to drive Moss from third base to win it for the Bandits.
"I thought we played well tonight. You look at that scoreboard, 3-2, that's a tough ballgame. It could have gone either way," said Bandits interim coach Kyla Holas, who filled in for Head Coach Sharonda McDonald. "I'm glad we were the ones who were able to put it together in the end. Look at these fans, I'm glad we we're able to get it done for them here on opening night."
The win marked the third consecutive year in which the Bandits have won their season opener. Carosone finished the game going 2 for 4 with an RBI. Brown finished 1 for 2 with a home run and a walk.
The Bandits have built a winning culture since joining the NPF, taking home the Cowles Cup title in 2008, 2011 and 2015. They're also just the second team in NPF league history to win back-to-back championships (USSSA Pride 2013-14).
After winning the NPF title each of the past two seasons, the team realizes the target on its back is even bigger this season.
"We prepare for everything. We know we have a target on us, but we don't want to get in that defensive mode. We're going to play the game like we know how," said Carosone. "Doesn't matter who's in that other dugout. Every girl on our team is going to come out and give 110 percent."
The Bandits take on the Racers in Game 2 of the opening series Friday night at 7:05 p.m.
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