Five Takeaways From Week 3 Of Athletes Unlimited
Remember when we thought the ball was flying out of the yard in Week 1? Well, it turns out we hadn’t seen anything yet. Hitters mashed 11 home runs in the first week of action, then 16 in Week 2. But that was just a warmup for what we saw in Week 3, when 23 softballs went soaring out of the yard. From blowouts to walk-offs, here’s what we learned in Week 3 of Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season.
Professional softball is all in on the launch angle revolution. The home run explosion that has rocked Major League Baseball the last few years has spread to softball. Every game featured at least two long balls, with a Sunday slugfest between Cat Osterman’s Gold team and D.J. Sanders’ Purple team seeing six of them. With nine games in the books for each player, Megan Wiggins, Hannah Flippen, Erika Piancastelli and Sahvanna Jaquish are tied for the lead with four homers each. But three other players have hit three and six more have two. Caleigh Clifton provided the most important home run of the weekend, a three-run walk-off shot for Piancastelli’s Orange team on Sunday. The dinger-fests have resulted in some unsightly stat lines for pitchers, especially Taylor McQuillin, Randi Hennigan and Samantha Show—each of whom are allowing opponents to hit .400 or better.
Innings can get out of hand in a hurry. Team Sanders found this out the hard way, giving up an eight-run first inning two days in a row. On Sunday, it was Team Osterman with the early explosion, with Katiyana Mauga and Victoria Hayward each hitting three-run homers. On Monday, Team Sanders fell way behind early again against the Blue team captained by Janie Reed. Show, Haylie McCleney and Morgan Zerkle each collected bunt singles, and Flippen brought them all home with a grand slam. Amanda Sanchez hit a three-run shot later in the frame, and McCleney capped the inning with a solo homer. Team Reed did not stop there, with Sanchez hitting another three-run bomb in the fifth en route to an 18-1 thrashing.
But it doesn’t matter how much you win an inning by in terms of points. The eight runs Team Osterman scored against Team Sanders in the first inning Sunday left little doubt as to the outcome of the game itself. But Team Sanders kept chipping away, winning every inning except for the first. So despite losing the game 12-9, Team Sanders won 60 points for team performance—the same as Team Osterman, which won 10 for winning the first inning and 50 for winning the game. In short, winning an inning by one run is worth the same as winning it by eight.
Jessie Warren will be a captain for the first time since Week 1. It helped, of course, that the former Florida State star was with Team Osterman, which went 3-0. But Warren, who has been one of the most consistent players in the league since the first week of action, hadn’t been able to crack the top four until this week. Somewhat ironically, Warren did not hit a home run this weekend, but she was 4-for-9 at the plate with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. And although no points are awarded for defense, Warren played her usual sparkling third base. Also rejoining the captains club will be Hayward, alongside returning captains Osterman and Reed.
The Osterman/Svekis battery is still undefeated. Much has rightfully been made of Osterman’s dominance at age 37, especially with no other pitcher performing anywhere close to her. But her catcher, Gwen Svekis, also deserves plenty of credit. In each of the last two weeks, when Osterman has been the first captain, she has taken Svekis with the first overall draft pick. Svekis is hitting just .222, but her leadership behind the plate has benefitted Osterman and whoever else is in the circle. Osterman and Svekis are the only two players who haven’t lost through the first three weeks of action, and as long as Osterman continues to be a captain, it seems a safe bet that she will want to keep Svekis on her side.