Henderson shuts out Aussie Peppers as USSSA Pride win home opener

Pride will host Peppers tonight in second game of five-game series


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Jolene Henderson threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout Tuesday night as the USSSA Pride won their home opener 2-0 over the Aussie Peppers. The two teams will play again tonight at 7 at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

After spending the first 12 days of the National Pro Fastpitch season on the road, the USSSA Pride finally got a chance to play a game in front of their home fans Tuesday night.

And it was a homecoming to celebrate.

Jolene Henderson threw a complete-game shutout and the offense was able to scratch across a couple of runs to give the Pride a 2-0 victory over the Aussie Peppers at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

It was the Pride’s first home game since winning the 2018 Cowles Cup Championship.

“It was so awesome to be home,” Henderson said. “It has that feeling that we remember from last year.”

With groups of kids eagerly chasing down every foul ball that landed in the stands, there was certainly an air of excitement in the crowd as the Pride improved its record to 5-3.

“I thought our pitching was great and our defense was great,” Pride manager Gerry Glasco said. “When you have high-level defense and pitching, you’ve got a chance to win every night.

“I was glad to see Jolene. She really looked good. She looked like Jolene. That’s why she was the (NPF Pitcher of the Year in 2018). We needed her to have a great start and she did.”

Henderson allowed three hits while striking out six and was in serious trouble only once after giving up a leadoff triple to the Peppers’ Stacey McManus in the top of the sixth inning.

However, Henderson came back to get a strikeout, a shallow fly ball to center fielder Allexis Bennett and a fly ball to right fielder Nicole Pendley to end the threat.

“I haven’t started out the strongest (this season) and the team just keeps grabbing my back,” Henderson said. “I came out a little stronger today, and they had my back even more.

“It just meshed better.”

Offensively, the Pride got run in the bottom of the fifth when Amanda Lorenz walked, went to third on a single by Megan Wiggins and scored on a wild pitch.

It became 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth. Chelsea Goodacre doubled and was replaced by pinch runner Bianka Bell. After Bell advanced to third on a wild pitch, Pendley put down a bunt and Bell was able to beat the throw home.

“Offensively, we can get better,” Glasco said. “We just came off a long road trip – plane flights and changing our sleeping schedule. It wasn’t too surprising, but we had our chances.

“Their middle infield made some high-level plays at second and short and took a couple of runs away from us. I tip my hat to them for their defense, too.”

Glasco, who coaches the Louisiana Rajun’ Cajuns college softball team, is in his second stint with the Pride. He managed them to the Cowles Cup championship in 2014.

He’s happy to be back.

“It’s a really good organization,” he said. “(Pride General Manager) Don (DeDonatis) runs a first-class organization all the way around. The Pride … they just do it right.”

This year’s Pride team has already had to make a number of adjustments.

The team knew it would be without U.S. National Team members Kirsti Merritt, Shelby Pendley and Keilani Ricketts along with pitchers Delanie Gourley and Kelsey Nunley, who both retired.

However, softball legend Lauren Chamberlain announced her retirement just before the start of the season and standout second baseman Sierra Romero tore her ACL in an exhibition game against the Czech Republic national team.

That injury list may have grown Tuesday night as rookie outfielder Falepolima Aviu sustained a knee injury in a rundown between third and home. Moments earlier, Aviu had just gotten her first hit as a pro.

While the Pride may have lost a number of key players, there are a number of new players with plenty of talent ready to step into big roles – including rookies Amanda Lorenz, Sydney Romero, Megan Good, Shay Knighten and Taran Alvelo.

The mixture of young players, along with the experience and leadership of veterans like Goodacre, Wiggins and Kelly Kretschman give the team a good mix of players that expects to challenge for another Cowles Cup championship this season.

After going 45-5 on their way to the title last season, the Pride are 5-3 on the year and will face a much tougher road to the title with the addition of the Canadian Wild and an always tough Chicago Bandits team.

But as Henderson said, this is the time of year when the Pride are building their foundation that will carry them through the season. And that foundation is built through playing games.

Playing at home should help. The Pride will host the Aussie Peppers tonight at 7 in the second game of a five-game series.

“It’s definitely a young roster with strong leadership,” Henderson said. “I think that’s why it’s going to mesh really well. But we’ve got to build that foundation.”