NPF Gives USA Softball Players Preparation For International Play
It was a quick turnaround for USA Softball players Keilani Ricketts, Shelby Pendley, Kirsti Merritt and Ally Carda. Just prior to the start of the 2019 National Pro Fastpitch Championship Series last Thursday, the softball stars helped the U.S. national team win its ninth gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. Fast forward five days from Team USA’s Pan-Am final against Canada, and the quartet was competing for yet another championship, this time stateside in Rosemont, Ill. for the NPF’s Cowles Cup.
When they are not competing with Team USA, Ricketts, Pendley and Merritt all play for the USSSA Pride, who captured their fifth Cowles Cup in the organization’s history on Saturday, while Carda plays for the Chicago Bandits, the runners-up in this year’s NPF Championship Series.
According to those players—all of whom will participate in USA Softball’s Selection Trials in October for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games—their time spent playing in the NPF has helped prepare them for the international competition they face with USA Softball.
“The NPF has prepared me for Team USA because this league has made me the player that I am,” Pendley, a five-year NPF veteran and first-year Team USA infielder, told Softball America. “You have to take the next step in your game in this league or else you don’t last.”
The players’ understanding of the NPF’s benefits to their softball development is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that they participated in last week’s Championship Series during USA Softball’s 10-day break from international competition. Immediately following the conclusion of the 2019 NPF season on Saturday, they were on the road again, as they departed for Team USA’s training camp in Japan ahead of the Japan Cup, which begins Aug. 30.
“I’ve been with Team USA all summer, so being able to be welcomed back (to the Pride), I felt right at home,” Ricketts, a Team USA and Pride veteran, told Softball America. “It was really cool to see them welcome me back in and be able to trust me to help them out with this championship.”
And Ricketts did, in fact, aid in the Pride’s quest for a second straight Cowles Cup last week. The seven-season NPF player earned the win in the circle for USSSA in Game 2 of the best-of-five series against the Bandits, which the Pride swept in three games.
Pendley and Merritt contributed to USSSA’s championship efforts, as well, as Pendley hit .375 in the series with a home run and three RBI, while Merritt added two hits and a run scored. Carda also played a role in the Championship Series, tossing 3.1 innings and recording four strikeouts for Chicago.
“(In the NPF), you have to be ready to go in any inning and on any given day, so that is tough, but it helps you grow,” said Ricketts, who is a two-time All-NPF selection. “The biggest difference in the NPF is facing American hitters. You’re not always facing American hitters internationally.”
Aside from the elite talent that exists in the NPF, Pendley believes the mental preparation the league offers its players benefits them just as much as the physical preparation it grants.
“I’ve learned so much in my five seasons in the NPF,” stated Pendley, a four-time All-NPF selection and the 2015 NPF Rookie of the Year. “I may be a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, but mentally, I think I’ve gone to a different level in this league. You learn how to let things go and not be so tough on yourself all the time.”
With just one tournament remaining on Team USA’s 2019 schedule ahead of October’s Olympic Team Selection Trials, all four players who play in the NPF and with USA Softball will look to collect their third gold medal of the summer in the coming weeks, after having captured gold at both the Pan-Am Games and International Cup earlier in the campaign. Along the way, they will continue to rely on their collective experiences from softball’s international and professional levels, as they pursue the ultimate goal of earning a gold medal at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“I think (the NPF) is the best league,” Pendley said. “There’s so much talent here. International competition is tough, but ultimately, America has the best athletes and so many of them are playing in this league. I’m very fortunate that the NPF exists.”