NPF Championship Series: Bandits, Pride To Decide 2019 Title
After nearly three months of competition in the National Pro Fastpitch, the 2019 season will come down to one week in Illinois to decide the winner of the Cowles Cup.
The 2019 NPF Championship Series will feature the regular-season champion Chicago Bandits and the reigning-champion USSSA Pride in a best-of-five set that will take place Aug. 15–19. It will be held at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Ill., which is the Bandits' home field. The series will also be a rematch of last year's championship, which was won by the Pride in three games.
The Bandits, who last won the Cowles Cup in 2016, own four Cowles Cups in franchise history, while the Pride have also taken home the hardware four times in their own history.
Chicago won four straight games against USSSA to close out the 2019 regular season and snap an eight-game losing streak against the Pride that dated back to 2018.
Because the Bandits won the regular season, they will be the home team for three out of the five games in the series, if all five contests are needed to decide a champion.
See below for a preview of the 2019 NPF Championship Series, which begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
2019 regular-season record: 38–7
Top pitchers: Rachele Fico (11–3, 1.62 ERA, 62 strikeouts, 69 IP), Haylie Wagner (8–1, 1.02 ERA, 23 strikeouts, 55 IP)
Top hitters: Amanda Chidester (.374 BA, 15 HR, 35 RBI), Abbey Cheek (.378 BA, 9 HR, 28 RBI)
The 2019 Bandits possess both the league's leader in wins (Rachele Fico) and its overall best hitter (Amanda Chidester). Chicago's pitching staff also contains several other staunch arms, including those of Haylie Wagner, Danielle O'Toole, Kelly Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio, among others. Reigning–NPF Player of the Year Brenna Moss anchors a balanced lineup that features the undeniable power of Chidester and standout-rookie Abbey Cheek.
A major key for the Pride against the Bandits will be to shut down the production of Chidester and Cheek, who lead Chicago's offensive attack.
2019 regular-season record: 32–13
Top pitchers: Jolene Henderson (10–4, 1.99 ERA, 58 strikeouts, 91.1 IP), Jailyn Ford (7–4, 1.93 ERA, 68 strikeouts, 61.2 IP)
Top hitters: Sydney Romero (.371 BA, 49 hits, 28 runs), Allexis Bennett (.343 BA, 37 hits, 15 stolen bases)
The Pride endured a season full of injuries, starting with the announcement of Sierra Romero's ACL injury at the summer's start. USSSA also saw Amanda Lorenz, Nicole DeWitt and Fale Aviu endure season-ending setbacks during the 2019 campaign, along with other injuries to the team.
But the Pride have hung around thanks to a mix of veteran leadership and rookie contributions. Fourteen–year NPF veteran Kelly Kretschman paces the team in on-base percentage with a .436 mark, while rookie Sydney Romero leads USSSA in four different offensive categories.
A major key for the Bandits against the Pride will be to contain Romero at the plate and attack early against a tough USSSA pitching staff.