The Racers are back in Akron and ready for their home opener at Firestone Stadium tonight after 12 road games to start the season.
Ryan Phillips is in his first season as the Racers manager. The Racers won only one of their first seven games but now they are riding a five-game winning streak as they prepare for a 7:05 p.m. game that is the first of a four-game series against the Chicago Bandits.
“The heart and soul of this team has been the pitching staff,” Phillips said. “Being able to get all the pieces of our puzzle put together here with [pitcher] Ivy Renfroe coming in after the first game of the season and putting Brianna Turang into the outfield has also been important.”
The Racers (6-6) swept a four-game series from the New York/New Jersey Comets this past weekend with two games in Allentown, Pa. and two games in Bridgewater, N.J.
“I think we took a giant leap with our team in the New York/New Jersey series with our pitching, hitting and defense,” said owner and General Manager Joey Arrietta.
“I am excited with the fact that our team is finally coming together. We had to wait for all the players to arrive [due to college or other commitments]. We finally have all 20 players together to play.”
Right-hander Lisa Norris is the ace as she enters her fifth season with the Racers. Norris, who celebrated her 26th birthday Wednesday, has a 3-1 record in four appearances [three starts]. Her 0.00 ERA is No. 1 in National Pro Fastpitch.
“Lisa is a veteran and she is in the best shape of her career,” Arrietta said. “When she first came to the Racers five years ago, she threw a perfect game. … This is the best I have ever seen her throw. She leads the league in ERA.
‘‘In a league, that touts Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott, that is pretty impressive.”
In 21⅓ innings, Norris has struck out 17, walked five and allowed 13 hits and five unearned runs.
“Lisa has definitely been the catalyst to our pitching staff,” Phillips said. “She comes out and just does a phenomenal job of keeping hitters off balance. She has a good mix with velocity and off-speed pitches.”
Brittany Mack, Rachele Fico, Jen Mineau, Erin Arevalo and Hillary Bach join Norris and Renfroe to give the Racers a pitching staff of seven.
The Racers outscored the Comets 34-10 in the four-game series. Racers catcher Kaylyn Castillo was named the NPF Offensive Player of the Week after hitting .556 with five RBI in three games. She hit a grand slam in the series.
“We are definitely ready for our home opener,” Castillo said. “Three weeks on the road to start the season is not ideal. We are happy to be back home and to play in front of our home crowd. We are hoping to generate a lot of excitement with our play this weekend and also with the doubleheader Saturday that will be televised on ESPN2.
“We are feeling good at the plate, in the pitching circle and in the field defensively.”
The Racers and Bandits are scheduled to play at 7:05 tonight and Friday. Saturday’s doubleheader features start times of 1 and 8 p.m.
Castillo has a .360 batting average (9-for-25) this season with two home runs and eight RBI.
First baseman Charlotte Morgan was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Week last week. Morgan is batting .364 (8-for-22) this season with one homer and two RBI.
Third baseman Kelley Montalvo, shortstop Aja Paculba and second baseman Brigette Del Ponte have also contributed regularly along with other infielders Tess Sito of Elyria, Brianna Hesson, Dara Toman, Sam Marder of Ohio State and Jessica Garcia.
The Racers outfielders from left to right are Brianna Turang, Taylor Schlopy and Ayumi Karino.
“Offensively, it has been a total team effort,” Phillips said. “Nobody has done it by themselves. Overall, just day in and day out, we have had several girls step up.”
The Racers’ roster features six rookies who finished their college careers in 2013: Toman, Sito, Del Ponte, Turang, Fico and Renfroe. … Turang played a key role on the Oklahoma team that won the 2013 national championship. Renfroe helped Tennessee finish as runner-up. … Karino, 28, is in her first year playing in the United States after a lengthy career in Japan. She helped Japan win the gold medal in softball in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.