Five Takeaways From Week 5 Of Athletes Unlimited
Well, that was fast. Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season flew by, and Week 5 featured another power surge, with hitters blasting a record-setting 30 softballs over the fence at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Ill. And the league offered an intriguing preview of what we might expect to see when softball makes its return to the Olympic Games next summer.
Here are five things we learned from the final week of Athletes Unlimited action in 2020.
Good pitching beats good hitting. Except when it doesn’t. One of the most-anticipated matchups of the weekend was Saturday’s game between Cat Osterman’s Gold team and Erika Piancastelli’s Blue team. Osterman, of course, had been the league’s best pitcher since Week 1, and she put together a great staff behind her with Haylie Wagner and Samantha Show. Piancastelli entered the final weekend second in the league in home runs, and she drafted quite the lineup, with sluggers Sahvanna Jaquish, Haylie McCleney, DJ Sanders and Sam Fischer. Wagner and Randi Hennigan matched zeros for three innings before the offenses exploded late. Osterman’s team led 3-1 in the fifth when she entered the game herself in relief of Wagner. But the move backfired—Piancastelli launched a three-run homer for her second blast of the game to give her team the lead.
But you can’t win a game with slugging alone. After the Italian Stallion went deep for the second time, Team Piancastelli still had to get it done in the circle. But Piancastelli put so much emphasis on power in the draft that she wasn’t able to get much in the way of pitching. Hennigan, Taylor McQuillin and Kamalani Dung all pitched in Saturday’s game, but Team Osterman rallied for five runs in the bottom of the fifth to both win the inning and retake the lead. Show and Lilli Piper each hit run-scoring singles, which were followed by a go-ahead two-run base hit by Anissa Urtez. Team Osterman also got home runs from Jordan Roberts and Tori Vidales in the 9-5 victory.
Jessie Warren sure knows how to pick ‘em. The former Florida State superstar finished the season 8-1 as a captain and 13-2 overall. This week, she drafted a high-powered offense featuring Hannah Flippen, Amanda Chidester, Taylor Edwards and Katiyana Mauga—not to mention Warren herself. In a 7-4 win over Aleshia Ocasio’s Purple team on Saturday, Chidester, Edwards and Mauga hit back-to-back-to-back home runs to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead, and Warren also went deep later in the game. Team Warren beat Team Piancastelli 15-9 on Sunday, with Mauga homering twice and Chidester, Flippen and Warren each doing so once. Warren’s Orange team nicknamed themselves the Fanta Girls, and when they hit a home run, the dugout would toss an orange soda to the long ball hitter as she arrived at home plate.
The grand finale turned into a rout. Warren and Osterman, the two captains, entered Monday night’s contest a combined 25-3, so something had to give. Team Warren got off to a hot start, taking a three-run lead on a Chidester RBI double and a Flippen two-run homer. But Team Osterman came roaring back, scoring nine times each in the fourth and fifth for an 18-3 blowout. Piper, Roberts, Gwen Svekis and Urtez all hit homers, and Wagner went the distance in the circle. Osterman had the most total points for the season with 2,408—well ahead of second-place Warren, who finished with 2,020. Victoria Hayward was third with 1,860 and Piancastelli fourth with 1,840. Just missing out on the medals were Svekis and Morgan Zerkle, who each tallied 1,710 points.
Professional softball is in good hands. Athletes Unlimited had 20 players who were on preliminary rosters for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo—nine for the United States, four for Canada, six for Mexico and one for Italy. And all the players who came to Rosemont seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves despite the pandemic restrictions in place, with fun midweek activities, including movie nights and miniature golf, taking place. AU will come away from its first event with plenty of momentum after the softball season had highly professional broadcasts, big-name sponsors and undeniably exciting action. Next to get off the ground for Athletes Unlimited will be volleyball in late February, and there should be plenty of demand for another softball season next year.