The Aussie Spirit’s debut season in the National Pro Fastpitch league (NPF) has been a steep learning curve on many different levels, according to Head Coach Fabian Barlow.
The NPF is one of the strongest professional softball leagues in the world, with every game featuring high-quality players. After 24 NPF games (the halfway point of the season), the Spirit’s win-loss record stands at 6-18.
The decision to enter a team for the first time in the NPF is to mentally and physically prepare the Aussie Spirit for the all-important XVI Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, from August 2-12. That event is also the Spirit’s first chance to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“The NPF has been everything we thought it would be and more,” Barlow says.
“The games have been very tough, the travel schedule grinding, physically demanding, mentally draining, injuries — and we can’t wait to do it again in Chicago this upcoming weekend.”
Although the Spirit won six of their 12 games against the Beijing Eagles, Barlow says they have gained more from their games against the unbeaten USSSA Pride and Chicago Bandits.
“The USSSA and the Bandits’ hitting has just been relentless the last couple of series,” he says. “You make a mistake on the plate and it won t be a single base hit you give up, it’s going to be hit hard and long.
“You make a mistake defensively and you will be punished, they won’t let you off the hook.
“If you’re not aggressive in your hitting approach, have a plan in place and enter the batter’s box with confidence, your at bat will be over very quickly.
“But that’s exactly why we are here, to see how the best players play the game and how do we collectively and individually match up.”
Importantly, the players have not been discouraged by the lack of on-field success. It seems the tougher the task, the more the Spirit players embrace it.
“We agreed as a group upon arrival we were never going to assess our success on wins and losses, it was always about both group and individual growth as players, teammates and people,” Barlow says.
“The Aussie Spirit players are working hard, giving everything they have on the diamond and then assessing how can they get better for the next night because it will be tough again.
“Some nights we are learning some very tough lessons and then other nights we are showing we can compete for periods of the game. We just need to extend on those periods and stay in the game longer.”
After a tough road trip to Florida last week, the Spirit returned to their home base in Kansas, where they were swept by the powerhouse Bandits. Now, after 26 games in 24 days, they have a few game-free days ahead of a three-game series against the Bandits in Chicago.
“We have just returned to our home base at the University of Western Missouri after two weeks on the road,” Barlow says. “It was great to see the friendly faces of the staff and getting back into the world-class training and recovery facilities they have available to us.
“The girls will catch a little bit of a break this week to physically and mentally freshen up, but they will remain active with training sessions, gym and treatment.
“The coaching staff will review both our team and individual performances this week and look to upskill the players in areas we have been exposed in and look to present better for the next three-game series against the Bandits.”
Barlow paid tribute to the players, who have maintained their focus despite having little to show for their efforts in terms of wins.
“For all the tough nights and lessons we have had to take on board very quickly there have been a lot of positive contributions from every athlete at different times.
“Taylah Tsitsikronis (.271, 4 HR) has shown she can hit consistently well in this league, with power to match. Shannon Keevers (.286, 2 SB) has developed really well with her left-handed short game in the box and finding herself on base on a regular basis. Jess Torpey (.283, 8 RBIs) has been very consistent in the batter’s box and collected some key hits and been a tough out every night.
“Our pitchers and catchers are working overtime trying to contain the powerful hitting lineups, and their commitment to the cause has been faultless. Every night at the park for them is a tough night, but they never quit.
About the Aussie Spirit
The Aussie Spirit are among Australia’s most successful sporting teams, having won medals in every Olympics in which softball has been contested. This year the Spirit are playing in the National Pro Fastpitch league for the first time, as part of their preparation for the XVI Softball World Championship in Japan. The winner of the World Championship gains automatic entry into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
About National Pro Fastpitch
National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) provides elite female athletes with an opportunity to pursue a professional career in fastpitch softball beyond their collegiate and amateur success. The NPF affiliate teams consist of the Aussie Spirit, Beijing Shougang Eagles, Chicago Bandits, Cleveland Comets and USSSA Florida Pride for the 2018 season. National Pro Fastpitch players hail from the United States, Australia, Canada, and China, among which are the most accomplished and talented athletes in the sport of women s softball.