NPF teams bring talents to Tiger Park
Imagine if two of the top teams in Major League Baseball played a four-game weekend series on the LSU campus.
Two teams from National Pro Fastpitch — softball’s big leagues — have set up shop at Tiger Park this weekend with the Carolina Diamonds facing off against the USSSA Pride in a four-game set. It marks the first time two pro teams have hooked up at LSU’s four-year-old softball stadium.
“I think it will help grow the sport for our entire community just bringing the absolute best softball players in the entire world to play here in front of our fans and everybody associated with this program,” said Pride coach Beth Torina, best known in Louisiana as the coach who led LSU to the Women’s College World Series this past season. “I think it’s a really big deal for Tiger Park and for the Baton Rouge community.”
The Pride, playing a “home” series 500 miles from its Florida headquarters, has the hearts of the Tiger Park faithful given the club’s strong LSU flavor.
Former LSU star Brittany Mack was chosen by Torina with the No. 1 pick in the NPF draft last spring, becoming the first Tiger to go with the first pick.
Torina took over as the Pride’s head coach this year after serving as an assistant under University of Florida coach Tim Walton the previous two.
The fans liked what they saw in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday, but rain haulted play with Mack pitching and the Pride leading 7-3 in the top of the fifth inning. Carolina won Saturday’s first game 11-2 after losing Friday night’s opener by a run.
The teams will finish the series with the completion of Game 3 beginning at 12:30 p.m. followed by the series finale.
“It was fantastic being in front of my fans again,” Mack said. “It really reminded me of how it was at LSU.”
Mack’s homecoming took a fairytale-like twist Friday night when Josh Oakes, whom Mack began dating as an LSU freshman, fell to one knee after the series opener and presented his longtime girlfriend an engagement ring.
The proposal came minutes after LSU unveiled a graphic of Mack recognizing her as the program’s first No. 1 draft pick.
“I was there on the field I love and the field I played on for four years,” she said. “I had my new teammates and my old LSU teammates right behind them. It was great. I had everyone here with me.”
Mack (1-3) continued the good times into Saturday, surviving Carolina’s three-run second to get within striking distance of her second professional win.
In the third inning, Kelsey Bruder and Natasha Watley both scored on wild pitches by Sara Plourde to get Mack out of the 2-0 hole. An inning later, Tonya Callahan blasted a three-run homer and Caitlyn Lowe added a two-run single.
The second of two weather delays lasted 90 minutes before coaches and game officials decided to complete the game Sunday.
Several of the Pride players came out of LSU’s clubhouse during the second delay to sign autographs for youngsters. A couple of Carolina players later went skidding across the infield tarp Pete Rose-style.
“We play because it’s the sport we love and we’re so blessed to have a second chance to play after college,” Mack said. “So we just have a ball.”
Players in the NFP may not receive the kind of national attention their baseball brethren always have, but consider that the best players in professional softball are dispensed among only four rosters.
In the Pride dugout alone, Torina has seven Olympians from the United States and two more from Canada.
Six of the Pride’s players won national championships in college.
“It’s amazing the level of softball you see throughout the league,” Torina said.
Coaching the Pride has given Torina little time to dwell on her LSU team’s run to the WCWS in her first season at the helm.
The Tigers ended their season in Oklahoma City on June 2. The Pride began its season in Rosemont, Ill., five days later.
Torina usually spends the week days either at her office on the LSU campus or on the road recruiting, then heads off to meet her Pride on the weekends.
She said she would miss a series with the Pride if she needs to attend a recruiting function instead.
“It’s worth it to me to make the time for these guys because I think it’s something that is so important,” Torina said. “I’m in this to try and grow the sport and I’m in this to try and give female athletes the opportunity to have a professional league to play in. I think they’re so talented and deserve to be paid for their talents.”