Pride hit three home runs in opening night blowout
Lauren Chamberlain (left) celebrates with USSSA Pride teammates Mo Mercado and Shelby Pendley after Chamberlain's two-run home run during Wednesday night's National Pro Fastpitch season opener. The Pride beat the Aussie Spirit 13-1.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
Talk about a tone-setter.
Lauren Chamberlain, Bianka Bell and Megan Wiggins all hit home runs and Delanie Gourley and Jolene Henderson combined to throw a three-hitter as the USSSA Pride opened their season with a 13-1 win over the Aussie Spirit Wednesday night at Space Coast Stadium.
“It was so nice to be back on the field. I definitely missed playing here,” said Pride second baseman Sierra Romero, who went 3-for-4 with a double, a triple and four RBIs.
The Pride, who won their fourth consecutive National Pro Fastpitch regular-season title last year only to lose the Cowles Cup final, have made it clear their only goal this season is to get back to the playoffs and bring home the championship trophy.
After two weeks of training camp, Wednesday night was the start of that mission.
“They have worked real hard the last couple of weeks,” first-year USSSA Pride coach Mike Stith said. “To see them come out early and get after this, it was kind of nice to see.”
Romero got things started early, doubling home Wiggins with the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning. The Pride blew the game open the following frame, scoring seven runs as Chamberlain and Bell both hit two-run homers.
Wiggins would later add a solo home run as the Pride’s top three hitters – Wiggins, Allexis Bennett and Romero – would go a combined 7-for-12 with eight runs scored.
Gourley, the former University of Florida star who was signed in the offseason, allowed two hits and struck out four over four innings in her Pride debut. Henderson went the final three innings, allowing one hit while striking out three.
A crowd of 1,127 watched the game, an impressive number given the rainy conditions.
After a successful debut season in Brevard County last year – while the USSSA Space Coast Complex was undergoing construction – the relationship between the Pride and the local community is expected to only grow stronger in their second year here.
Whether it’s getting recognized at local restaurants or getting a chance to spend time with local kids and teachers at a school night event held at the stadium, the players and the fans seem to be forming a solid bond.
“It’s cool to see the community come together,” Romero said. “I expect the fans to keep growing.”
Stith, a decorated travel ball coach who owns the Sports Training Complex in Anaheim, California is also excited about being part of something special with the Pride.
Wednesday night was his NPF debut.
“When you do something for a profession, you get that urge to always want to do it more, (to take it to) that next level,” Stith said. “This (job) developed from a very good relationship with some of the players, doing some training videos and some training exercises and getting to meet the staff at USSSA.
“One thing led to another and here we are. It’s quite an experience to get to coach them. This is far more gratifying than most people would think. I’m going to do the best I can to try and get the word out about how good these people are.”
In the short time he has worked with the players, Stith said the biggest thing that has impressed him is their work ethic.
Not only did the team go through its regularly scheduled practices over the two-week camp leading up to the start of the season, but the players put in a lot of extra work as well.
“It’s the middle of the day on a Sunday and they call me up and they want to come out and work,” Stith said. “People think they are just softball players. They’re professional athletes. They act as such, and they train as such.”
The Pride, who will be home through Tuesday, last won a Cowles Cup Championship in 2014.
They’re determined to end that drought this season. And if Wednesday night’s season opener was any indication, it should make for an entertaining summer in Brevard County, because the Pride mean business.
“We do emphasize how important it is to win league games,” Romero said. “But at the end of the day, we want to win that last game. We want to win the championship.
“We fell short last year. We had an amazing season, but at the end of the day, we didn’t win (the Cowles Cup). We can celebrate a regular-season championship, but we all know that’s not what we ultimately want.
“Coming into this season, we have that chip on our shoulder. That is our goal. It’s our one and only goal -- play good softball and be the last team standing at the end.”