By Marty Gitlin
If the mad scramble for National Pro Fastpitch postseason berths is any indication, the NPF Championship Series is going to be dripping with suspense.
The chase for the Cowles Cup is set for the weekend of August 24-26 at Sunset Park in Kimberly, WI. Though the Washington Glory (34-10), the leagues newest team has clinched the regular season crown, the five remaining teams are battling for the three other spots.
In fact, Philadelphia (24-18), Akron (25-17), Rockford (24-19) and New England (23-19) were all bunched within one of each other heading into their various showdowns this weekend. Chicago (22-21) was just eliminated from playoff contention on Friday night by the Thunder.
The double-elimination tournament will be hosted by Cardinal Youth Softball in Kimberly, which rests 25 miles south of Green Bay and just east of Appleton. The Sunset Park stadium accommodates up to 4,500 fans.
The 2007 season has featured some of the finest individual performances in NPF history, including that of Washington slugger Amber Jackson, who nearly won the Triple Crown. Jackson leads the league with 15 home runs and 38 RBI and is second in batting average at .372.
The list of league leaders is peppered with Glory players, including pitchers Desiree Serrano (first with 17 wins) and Sarah Pauly (tied for third with 13 wins), as well as home run leaders Jackson, Oli Keohohou (11) and Sara Laquier (10).
The Force boasts a veritable Murderers Row at the plate consisting of Chelsea Spencer (.347), Kellie Wilkerson (.341) and Sharonda McDonald (.336) while teammate Kristina Thorson is 14-4 with a league-best (among qualifiers) earned run average of 1.15.
The only obstacle for Jackson snagging the Triple Crown is Akrons Norrelle Dickson, who tops the NPF with a .390 batting average. Add the 1-2 Rockford pitching punch of Cat Osterman (118 strikeouts in 70.2 innings) and Serena Settlemier (10-7, 1.48 ERA) and one realizes that the stars will indeed be shining in Kimberly that weekend.
Oh, and if the Chicago Bandits would have qualified, fans would have had the privilege of watching brilliant hurler Jennie Finch, who owns an unthinkable 0.11 ERA with 119 strikeouts and just 16 hits in 66.1 innings.
Cardinal Youth Softball President Bryan Menting? He cant wait, not just because of the opportunity to watch the premier fastpitch softball players in the world. Hes attended NPF games and he knows theres more to it than that.
Ive met the owners and players, Menting says. These are very vibrant, fun players. Its amazing and very impressive how much they enjoy the game. They take their batting practice and their fielding practice then when the game starts they really switch it into high gear. They are all gamers. They play hard and they play to win. Its a great show. Then after the game theyre all out there talking with the fans and signing autographs.
Menting, who worked diligently to land the NPF Championship Series, expressed a sense of pride that Cardinal Youth Softball will play host to the event. The organization boasts both area and traveling teams for girls between 10 and 18 years old.
Im happy theyre coming here and Im really looking forward to it, Menting says. I met a few of the NPF owners and I love their attitude about trying to improve and expand the league. What theyre trying to do for the players is outstanding. Im confident that Cardinal Youth Softball can help them out while getting our name out there so we can all do something for the game of softball.
A contest between the second and third seeds beginning at 6 p.m. Friday will kick off the event. The Glory will battle the fourth seed in the second game that evening.
The first losers bracket game will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by a showdown between Fridays winners.
The NPF Championship Series reaches a crescendo on Sunday. The noon game will pit the survivor from Saturdays losers bracket game against the loser of the winners bracket contest. The winner of that game will meet the undefeated team, which can clinch the title with a victory. If that team falls, a third game will be played Sunday to determine the winner of the Cowles Cup. The Cup is named after the Cowles family, which founded National Pro Fastpitch.
Saturday and Sundays games will also receive some television coverage as Time Warner Television and Fox Sports Net Wisconsin have agreed to televise the games on a tape-delayed basis. The games will be available on a local and regional level. NPF also plans on webcasting all the games live on www.profastpitch.com.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.cardinalyouthsoftball.com. A series pass is just $35. Passes for only Friday or Saturday action is $15. Sunday passes are $25.
Hotel accommodation might be limited, particularly considering the NFL Green Bay Packers are playing a home exhibition game that Thursday night. Menting reports that the Hampton Inn, which is among the NPF Championship Series sponsors, is nearly full. But he points out that the eight or nine hotels in the Appleton area should provide an opportunity for accommodation.
Menting adds that a childrens museum and the Fox River Mall are among the entertainment venues in the area. For more information on lodging and entertainment, click on the Fox Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.foxcities.com.