On a chilly night in Chicagoland, the Bandits made the most of their returning national team players, by jumping out to an early lead and hanging on to defeat the Chinese National Team 4-0 on Friday night.
Jennie Finch and Jaime Clark missed last weekends series with Venezuela to fulfill US National Team commitments, and Gina Oaks joined the team this week for tryouts for the 2005 squad. All three missed Thursday nights series opener with China.
On Friday night, right fielder Anne Steffan led off the bottom of the first with a slap back to the pitcher. Lu Wei had to move to her left to field it, but the fleet of foot Steffan had already crossed the base by the time the ball arrived at the bag.
Second baseman Liz Bouck sacrificed Steffan over to second and the shortstop Clark worked a full count walk to put runners on the corners.
With Finch batting clean-up, Clark stole second without a throw, and Wei unintentionally-intentionally walked the Bandits pitcher to load the bases.
With the bags juiced, third baseman Oaks came to the plate and provided an early lead for Finch. In an epic at bat, Oaks ripped the 17th pitch of her first AB to left field to plate Steffan and Clark, to give the Bandits a first inning 2-0 lead.
Steffan finished two for four on the game, to move her batting average to .433. The mark is a team-best among Bandits who average at least one AB per game. Steffans 11 stolen bases pace the NPF, with fellow Bandit Laura Harms in second with seven. Each had two steals on the night
Through the first two innings Finch struck out four, while allowing only a single hit.
The Bandits got right back into the swing of things in the second, when left fielder Harms placed a perfect bunt to record the infield single, and then promptly stole second with center fielder Megan Ciolli at the plate. Ciolli struck out, but a passed ball allowed Harms to advance to third.
Steffan came to the plate for the second time in as many innings with Harms on third, and one down. A drag attempt went straight to the third baseman, and Ciolli aborted a safety-squeeze attempt halfway between third and home. Third baseman Xin Mihong hesitated ever-so slightly and Ciolli was able to dive back to the bag.
After Steffan swiped second, Bouck slapped the ball to short and Ciolli slide across the plate head-first to increase the lead to three, which was more than Finch needed.
Ciolli finished the night with one hit and an RBI in three plate appearances.
Finch occupied the circle for the next three innings before being replaced by Amy Harre, and while she did not record another K after the second, Finch allowed only one base runner in her final three innings of work.
Harre recorded three strikeouts in the fifth and sandwiching single, stranded centerfielder Zhou Yi.
From the third through the fifth, Wei began to settle down, retiring the Bandits in order in the fourth and allowing only a Selena Collins single in the third and a Jaime Clark triple in the fifth. Neither hit amounted to any scoring.
In the sixth inning, the Bandits bats awoke, with a pair of extra base hits and another insurance run. Collins led the inning off with a double to left-centerfield, and after a Christina Enea pop-out, pinch hitter Venus Taylor laid down a sacrifice to move Collins to third. With a runner 60 feet away, Ciolli placed a double into no-mans land behind short and motored into second, scoring Collins.
Collins, the Bandits catcher, had two base hits on the night, and scored one run offensively. Behind the plate, she threw out Xin Mahong in the first, trying to steal second.
In the top of the seventh, Harre induced three groundball outs to earn her second save of the season.
Finch recorded her third win of the season, going five innings, striking out four and giving up a lone hit. Harre closed the contest, giving up a single, and striking out three.
Finch is one of nine league pitchers with three or more wins on the year, including teammate Lauren Bay who is second in the league with four. Harres two saves, tie her with New Englands Leigh Ann Ellis for the league lead.
Wei went the distance for China striking out five, but allowing four earned runs on eight hits in the process.
With their second consecutive shutout, the Bandits pitching staff ran their consecutive scoreless inning streak to 17, dating back to June 12th.
The Bandits and China renew their pleasantries on Saturday in a contest scheduled for 7:00 PM.
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