Sara Groenewegen leads the way towards softball gold medal in epic upset at Pan Am Games

Mirroring the Canadian men’s extra inning gold medal triumph in baseball at the Pan Am Games, Canada’s women accomplished the same heroics in softball. In both contests, Canada prevailed against a favored United States squad on home soil at President’s Choice Pan Am Park in Ajax, Ontario (east of Toronto).

Among a group of remarkable women that contributed to the gold medal win, pitcher Sara Groenewegen may have shined the brightest. Suffering from Type 1 Diabetes, she has not let her illness stand in the way of her chance at sporting glory. Known affectionately as the “Swaggin Wagon”, she tossed a complete game against the US, providing a performance that shall represent a remarkable chapter in Canadian sporting lore.

Adding to the magic of Canada’s softball victory is that it was the bridesmaid to the US in the last four consecutive gold medal matches in Pan Am play. Taking into account that the match was also held on the final day of the Pan Am Games, it was a remarkable way to end the event for host country Canada. The softball gold ensured that Canada had won a gold medal in every day of competition at the Games.

Defeating Puerto Rico by a 7-4 tally to advance to the gold medal game, tensions ran high for Canada as regulation play (consisting of seven innings) resulted in a scoreless tie. Nercous Canadians fans in attendance were hoping for a miracle, as gold would be Canada’s first in women’s softball since 1983.

Heading into extra innings, Canada scored four runs, placing the United States in a rare position where it was not in the lead. Considering that the US entered the gold medal with a 5-0 mark, including two victories against Canada, extra innings was not the anticipated outcome.

International rules state that each team begins with a base runner of choice at second base during extra innings. With Natalie Wideman’s fly ball lost in the sun by shortstop Kellie Fox, it placed two runners on base for Canada.

A single by Joey Lye, who was part of the silver medal winning team at the 2011 Pan Am Games, resulted in a 2-0 advantage, while Kaleigh Rafter was later intentionally walked to load the bases. Jennifer Salling’s sacrifice fly would stand as the game-winning (and gold medal clinching) RBI. Erika Polidori followed by extending Canada’s lead with an RBI single, as it provided Groenwegen with a four-run cushion to work with.

Despite the US scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Groenwegen maintained her composure, providing a calming influence. Although there were runners on first and third, she struck out Sierra Romero to clinch the gold medal. On this momentous day, she allowed only six hits, issued three walks, while striking out six batters for the win that shall immortalize her as a Canadian female sporting legend.

As a side note, US pitcher Jaclyn Traina was credited with the loss. With the Canadian men’s team having also captured the gold medal in softball (a 2-1 triumph against Venezuela), it provides the host nation with a rare double gold.

Monica Abbott throws fourth perfect game in Chicago Bandits history

In a 10-0 blanking of the expansion Dallas Charge, Monica Abbott added to the remarkable pitching legacy of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) Chicago Bandits. Throwing the fourth perfect game in franchise history (just five days shy of her 30th birthday), along with her second as a member of the Bandits, she recorded 11 strikeouts as the Bandits improved to 23-10 on the season.

The fans at The Ballpark at Rosemont (the only ballpark built for a professional women’s team) have been spoiled by Abbott’s heroics for many seasons. Akin to quarterback Sami Grisafe’s legendary career in women’s football with the Chicago Force, and Elena Delle Donne’s growing popularity with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, Abbott can lay claim to being part of the Windy City’s female sports icons.

Although Abbott, who is in her fifth season with the Bandits, was modest in proclaiming that she does not keep track of such statistical milestones, the reality was that Abbott was remarkably close on three separate occasions this season. Of note, she had thrown three complete game shutouts, in which she had allowed two hits or less during each win this season.

One of her two-hit shutouts was broadcast nationally on the CBS Sports Network, taking place against the Pennsylvania Rebellion on July 6. In addition, she enjoyed a complete game shutout against the Charge back on June 22.

With a season high crowd in attendance, it only added to the momentum. Successfully striking out the entire side in the first inning, the Bandits were dominant in the bottom half of the inning. Connecting off Charge pitcher Vanessa Stokes for four runs, the 4-0 lead only added to Abbott’s confidence. Megan Blank, who went 3-for-3 on the day, contributed the first RBI of the game, while catcher Taylor Edwards stroked a double that allowed two more runners to cross home plate.

A pair of Bandits experienced special milestones, as home runs were the prevailing theme. Kailee Cuico launched her first career home run with the franchise. Of note, she had been signed as a free agent after a release from the Akron Racers. Brenna Moss would hit a two-run home run, the first of her NPF career, making the score 10-0.

During the game’s aftermath, Abbott, whose ERA is down to 0.49, graciously signed autographs for the enthusiastic fans. Acknowledging the effort of Edwards in a post-game scrum, it was very heartwarming as it signified the first time that Edwards had caught a perfect game in NPF play. Of note, the first two perfect games thrown in Bandits history were accomplished by multiple Summer Games gold medalist Jennie Finch against Philadelphia on June 16, 2009 and Akron on July 9, 2010.

In between this memorable game, there was a bookend of events that made it a memorable week. The day prior, the Bandits had competed in a Battle of the Sexes game, while July 24 was a fundraiser for Cancer Awareness. Donning special edition jerseys to be auctioned off for charity, it only added to another great chapter in Bandits history.

Lauren Chamberlain breaks softball records for Oklahoma Sooners

In her senior season with the University of Oklahoma, Lauren Chamberlain rewrote the NCAA’s women’s softball record books. With a grand slam factoring in a 6-2 triumph on April 30 over North Texas. Breaking the all-time home run record with 91, Chamberlain hit the historic home run against pitcher Kenzie Grimes. Of note, the previous record (set by UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman) lasted for 13 years.

Chamberlain’s heroics contributed to the Sooners finishing the 2015 regular season with a sterling 45-7 record (going 14-2 in conference play), while clinching their fourth consecutive Big 12 championship. It was part of an impressive season where Oklahoma’s offense scored 487 runs and slugged a total of 107 home runs.

Through the first 53 games of the NCAA season, the 2012 Big 12 Freshman of the Year (and three-time All-America nod) hit an astounding .403, complemented by 20 home runs. By season’s end, she was able to maintain this remarkable display of hitting, finishing her career as the new NCAA record holder in slugging. Setting the new standard of excellence with a slugging mark of .957, it only added to her legacy as one of the greatest NCAA softball players of the decade.

Along with fellow senior Shelby Pendley, both were among the Top 10 finalists for the 2015 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. The only other program to have more than one finalist was the University of Florida Gators. Chamberlain’s 254 career RBI’s place her ninth all-time, while Pendley stands seventh with 269. As a side note, Chamberlain and Pendley became the first teammates in collegiate history to be selected with the first two picks of the NPF Draft.

Statistically. Chamberlain’s 1.32 runs per game and 1.20 walks per game ranked second overall in NCAA play. Her slugging percentage placed her fifth in the nation, while her on-base percentage was good enough for sixth, respectively. In addition, she recorded 66 runs scored, 60 walks and a .602 On-Base Percentage, which paced all players on the Sooners. Her .398 batting average was part of a sparkling statistical campaign. Ranking second to Pendley in most stats, Chamberlain managed a solid season that saw her notch 10 doubles, four triples, 19 home runs, eight stolen bases and a .984 slugging percentage.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama would prove to be the end of Chamberlain’s record-breaking career in a heartbreaking 5-3 loss at the Alabama Super Regionals. Losing to the sixth ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, Chamberlain contributed a pair of home runs. The momentum of the game had changed once Alabama slugger Marisa Runyon hit a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning. Chamberlain’s pair of home runs elevated her to 95 all-time, while her slugging percentage of .960 also stands as an NCAA record. Her 272 career runs scored places her fifth all-time.

Having established herself as a female sporting legend in Oklahoma, Chamberlain was recognized on the House and Senate floors at the State Capitol. One of the most accomplished college softball players ever, this home run queen is destined the one day don the United States national team jersey, extending her proud career and allowing a larger fan base to appreciate her remarkable athletic gifts.