Professional softball makes its Brevard County debut

USSSA Pride lose 6-4 to Akron in exciting NFP opener at Space Coast Stadium


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Brevard County's own Kelly Kretschman lays down a bunt single during the first inning of Thursday's season opener for the USSSA Pride at Space Coast Stadium.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Kelly Kretschman has played in some of the biggest games, in some of the biggest venues, any softball player could ever ask for.

But there was something special about Thursday night.

The Olympic gold and silver medal winner was back home in Brevard County as the USSSA Pride opened their 2017 National Pro Fastpitch season against the Akron Racers in their new digs at Space Coast Stadium.

While Kretschman and the Pride would lose the game 6-4, everything about the night – from the combined three home runs that were hit to the exciting atmosphere – made the experience a positive one for the announced crowd of 840.

And it figures to only going to get better from here.

Kretschman, who starred at Satellite High before moving on to become an All-American at the University of Alabama and member of the U.S. National Team, delivered the first hit for the Pride in their new home when she beat out a bunt in the first inning. She would later score.

“It was great to come home,” Kretschman said. “I never really thought as a professional athlete that I’d be playing right where I grew up.

“The atmosphere was great. I’m glad all these fans came out. Hopefully, it continues to grow (once) people hear about us, learn about us and realize it’s fun to watch.”

The 37-year-old Kretschman, who became the first player in league history to win the Triple Crown last season and was the NPF Player of the Year, is one of two players on the Pride roster with Brevard County ties.

Alex Powers, an Eau Gallie High grad who just concluded a decorated career as a first baseman at Florida State, was the 10th overall pick by the Pride in this year’s draft.

Her college teammate, pitcher Jessica Burroughs, was the No. 1 overall pick.

Other Pride players to watch this season include 2016 Jennie Finch Award winner Lauren Chamberlain – who hit a solo home run Thursday night – and six others who were named to the 2016 All-NPF team: Megan Wiggins, Shelby Pendley, Jordan Taylor, Jolene Henderson, Kelsey Nunley and Hallie Wilson.

For even the casual softball fan who watches the College World Series every year, there are plenty of names out there to recognize.

Talk about a loaded lineup and a loaded league.

“Every team in the league is awesome, so it’s going to be a good game every time,” Kretschman said. “It’s like the World Series-plus. Every team is like an All-Star team. All of the best players that were in college are going to be playing in this league.”

That was evident right from the start as two-time Olympian, three-time National Player of the Year and four-time All-American Cat Osterman was on hand Thursday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The former University of Texas and Pride star also had her No. 8 jersey retired.

Then it was time to get down to business for a league that is looking to grow its popularity.

There are six teams in the NPF this season including the Pride, Racers, the Texas Charge, the Chicago Bandits, the Scrap Yard Dawgs and the Beijing Shougang Eagles, a team made up of a pool of players from the Chinese National Team along with a few American team members.

The regular season runs through Aug. 13 followed by the playoffs, which will be held at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge.

The Pride have won three straight regular-season titles and have advanced to the championship series eight consecutive years – including last season when they lost to Chicago.

As they chase what would be their fourth Cowles Cup Championship since 2014, the Pride get to play their home games at Space Coast Stadium, which features a new turf field and 6-foot-high portable fences.

The complex is undergoing a massive renovation by USSA that will feature 15 fields once completed and include a new ballpark for the Pride just north of the stadium’s entrance.

For Pride (and Florida State) coach Lonni Alameda and the players, it’s just nice to finally have a place to call home.

The team has not had a real home stadium since 2010. Last year’s team, which set a league record with a 41-15 regular-season record in Alameda’s first year, played the majority of its games on the road.

“This was awesome,” Alameda said Thursday night. “The girls have worked really hard. Last season was crazy for us. We were on the road so much, but they kept their composure so well.

“Any group, I don’t care – guys, girls, old, young – when you’re together that long it can get to you. We had a chance all the way up until the end of the season. I was proud of them.

“Now, to actually have a home and fans … it was really cool.”

The Pride treated their new fans to a 3-0 first inning lead Thursday night after Wilson drilled a two-run single and Chelsea Goodacre brought home another run with an infield out.

Chamberlain made it 4-0 with her first home run of the year and Henderson was cruising on the mound until Akron rallied with a run in the fourth and four in the sixth thanks in part to a three-run homer by Alex Hugo.

Pride reliever Angel Bunner was touched up for another Akron homer in the seventh to make it 6-4 as the Racers (1-3) earned their first win of the season.

“Some of these kids haven’t faced live (pitching) in a long time and these guys have four games under their belt already,” Alameda said. “That’s fine. I know that in time, as they get the mojo of the season going and we figure out how to work our bullpen, we’ll be good.”

If history is any indication, the Pride will be very good.

Tickets to the remaining 27 Pride home games can be purchased at usssapride.com/tickets. General admission prices are $10 for adults; $5 for children (ages 2-12) and seniors (ages 65 & up). Groups of 25 or more will pay $9 per ticket.

Fans can also watch ever Pride game this summer on NPFTV.com

The Pride will host the Racers again tonight and again on Saturday. Both games start at 7:05 p.m.