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Bandits Rookie Abbey Cheek Is A Force To Be Reckoned With

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(Photo courtesy of National Pro Fastpitch)

Chicago Bandits rookie Abbey Cheek has played softball long enough to know that the way a game starts isn't always how it ends. So when Cheek struck out swinging on a rise ball in her first at-bat of a regular-season game on Thursday against the Aussie Peppers, she believed her stat line that night would not be defined by her first trip to the plate.

"My first at-bat wasn't what I wanted it to be," Cheek told Softball America. "I knew in my next at-bats I had to just slow things down and be simple and go back to the basics. My mindset was just to see the ball and hit the ball."

And Cheek did more than just see and hit the ball on Thursday in Mankato, Minn. She made a major adjustment and crushed three pitches over the fence in her subsequent at-bats against the Peppers. That night, she became just the fourth player in National Pro Fastpitch history to record three home runs in a single game. Cheek, who is now tied for the league lead in home runs with six on the season, joined Olympians Crystl Bustos and Jessica Mendoza, along with current USSSA Pride catcher Chelsea Goodacre, as the only NPF players to ever accomplish that feat.

"It's really cool to have that honor and to be on that list," said Cheek, who finished up a stellar playing career at Kentucky in the spring. "The three people who did it before me are really great athletes and I've looked up to them, so it's cool to join them and to have younger kids look up to me now."

As perhaps one of the league's most underrated rookies coming into this season, Cheek did not have a starting role right away with the Bandits this summer. But the third baseman knew it was only a matter of time until her sheer power and multifaceted capabilities on the field became undeniable to her new coaching staff. Before that happened, however, she was determined to take advantage of any opportunities she was given early in the season to prove herself as a professional softball player.

"Maybe I was underrated a little, but all the rookies this year are really good," stated Cheek, who was the 14th overall selection in the 2019 NPF Draft. "At first, I wasn't playing as much and it took a little bit of time for me to get (into the lineup). But once I got my chance, I just tried to stay with the process that I had my whole senior season in college, and I think it's worked out for me."

After a senior year that saw her be named the SEC Player of the Year and a unanimous First Team All-American—becoming the first-ever Kentucky softball player to garner that accomplishment—Cheek was primed for success in the NPF. She has utilized the same confident mindset she had as a Wildcat in her first professional season.

"Just coming off of the season I had in college and the mindset I had then, I've just brought that over to the pro league," Cheek said. "When I'm not thinking as much in the box, good things happen for me."

As one of the best hitters on the NPF's top team, Cheek now finds herself in a leadership role for Chicago, despite still being a rookie. The Bandits currently hold a narrow lead over the Pride for first place in the standings heading into the final month of the 2019 season.

"This season has been amazing," Cheek added. "The team is great and it feels like a family. We're so close. The older players who have been in the league for a while have taken the rookies under their wing and shown them the way. It's just really cool to have that on the Bandits."

Regardless of how the season ends for the Bandits and their star rookie this year, Cheek is just grateful for the opportunities she's had thus far in the NPF.

"I try to stay in the moment," Cheek said. "It's just an honor to be able to shine in the pro league."

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2019 NPF Rookie of the Year: Abbey Cheek

Abbey Cheek of the Chicago Bandits is Softball America's NPF Rookie of the Year.