Chicago Bandits defeat Pride 2-1 to claim second consecutive Cowles Cup
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Throughout the 2016 NPF Championship Series, the Bandits embraced the underdog role, using timely hitting and contributions from across the lineup and on the mound.
Head coach Mike Steuerwald didn't feel the need to shy away from the role, even after forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 against the rival USSSA Pride in the final series.
"These 23 players have been the most fun group, minus the softball at one point in the season. Then, in the second half, they decided to add the softball to that," Steuerwald said Monday after winning Game 2 11-5. "If you asked everyone in the softball world should be we going to Game Three against the Pride tomorrow night, you would probably win a lot of money in Vegas."
So, when the season culminated with the Bandits taking down the Pride in a do-or-die Game 3, Steuerwald -- and the Bandits -- could finally deviate away from the "underdog" title and embrace their new claim: back-to-back Cowles Cup Champions. The Bandits bested the Pride by a 2-1 final in Game 3 of a three-game series, capturing their second consecutive Cowles Cup and fourth-ever in franchise history.
After consecutive scoreless frames to start the game on either side, the Bandits opened it up in the third. Taylor Edwards (1-for-3, HR) popped a solo shot over the left field fence to give the Bandits the lead. Brittany Cervantes, who smacked 3 home runs in the postseason to go along with 6 RBI, made it back-to-back blasts in the following at-bat.
Cervantes recorded at least 1 hit in every game of the postseason en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors in the NPF Championship Series.
In true Bandits fashion, it was not just the big names leading the way in the final game of the season. Angel Bunner, a midseason signing who, prior to joining the Bandits, hadn't competed in the NPF since 2014, turned in a stellar outing. The veteran southpaw tossed 6 innings, allowing only a run while scattering 8 hits with a strikeout. Her lone blemish on the evening was a solo shot to right-center off the bat of league MVP Kelly Kretschman in the fifth.
"Signing (Bunner) was a big key to turning our season around," Steuerwald said. "We needed to do something. At the point we were at in the season, we had to take a shot and see what she could do."
Rookie Shelby Turnier, perhaps the most unheralded postseason performer for the Bandits, shut the door in the seventh with a 1-2-3 frame, including retiring former Bandit Megan Wiggins on a pop out to end the game. She finished the postseason not allowing a single run in nine innings of work while allowing just five hits with 10 strikeouts.
"(Turnier's) got ice water in her veins for a rookie," Steuerwald said. "She was just phenomenal. She doesn't show a lot of emotion out there. I think that's what makes her really successful."
Jill Barrett, who went 2-for-3 in Game 3 and finished with a .318 clip for the championship series, harkened back to the Bandits being a unit.
"Here in Chicago, it's one through 23," said Barrett, who was traded from the Akron Racers. "(Emily) Allard makes it 24 of us."