The Chicago Bandits are looking like the team to beat in National Pro Fastpitch.
The first-place Bandits (10-3) rallied Thursday from a three-run deficit and spoiled the Racers’ home opener with a 7-3 win at Firestone Stadium.
Former Oklahoma Sooner pitching star Michelle Gascoigne (2-0), who blanked Tennessee June 4 in the NCAA title-clinching game, survived a rocky start to gain the victory. The left-hander retired 14 of the final 17 batters she faced.
Bandits first baseman Alisa Goler enjoyed a 3-for-4 game at the plate, including a two-out, two-run blast to right-center field that ignited the Bandits’ comeback.
“We got punched in the mouth a little bit early and had some things, some close calls go against us, and we just kept fighting back and chipping away,” Bandits manager Mike Steuerwald said.
The Bandits snapped the Racers’ five-game winning streak and now have won four out of five games against the Racers (6-7). The two teams meet again tonight at 7:05 and play a day-night doubleheader Saturday to be televised live on ESPN2.
“You can’t make mistakes against a good team like Chicago,” said Racers first-year manager Ryan Phillips. “Their offense is very strong and we just had a couple of lapses defensively and they capitalized.”
Gascoigne’s Oklahoma teammate, Racers leadoff hitter and left fielder Brianna Turang, gave the Bandits fits when she reached on a slap single and scored in the first inning and then dropped a squeeze bunt to plate shortstop Aja Paculba, who walked to start the second. In between, the Racers’ Sam Marder doubled home center fielder Taylor Schlopy.
“We were roommates my freshman year,” said Turang when asked about Gascoigne. “We were messing around before the game about it.”
Trailing 3-0, the Bandits cut the Racers’ lead to 3-2 on Goler’s home run in the top of the third.
“The credit should go to Eri Yamada for getting on in front of me because a two-run home run versus a single shot is a little different,” Goler said.
The Racers then were guilty of a series of miscues allowing the Bandits to build a 6-3 lead. With one out in the fourth inning and the bases loaded, the Bandits tied the score 3-3 when Paculba caught a low pop-up behind second base, but was knocked down by second baseman Brigette Del Ponte, also trying to make the catch.
Bandits’ designated player Nerissa Myers tagged up and scored easily.
Myers and third baseman Amber Patton got the Bandits started in the decisive sixth inning with a double and single, respectively.
A passed ball, a throwing error and a sacrifice fly off the bat of center fielder Megan Wiggins resulted in a three-run inning.
Shortstop Tammy Williams closed out the Bandits’ scoring with a solo home run in the seventh.
Paculba turned in a defensive gem for the Racers, snaring a sinking line drive inches off the ground. Brittany Mack (1-1) took the loss for the Racers.