Osterman, Finch combine for 41 Ks in 12-inning war

As a pitcher, you must know you’re pitching well when they’re forced to use a rule that automatically puts a runner on second base to start the inning—not just because the game is tied, but also because nobody has scored.

Cat Osterman versus Jennie Finch. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The 2,635 attendees at the Rockford Thunder’s first game Tuesday, May 29, at Sportscore 1 against the Chicago Bandits witnessed dominating performances from the Rockford Thunder’s Cat Osterman and the Chicago Bandits’ Jennie Finch.

The game went as expected—except for what was scheduled to be a seven-inning battle turned into a 12-inning war that didn’t end until Thunder second baseman Lindsay Gardner hit a bases-loaded single to give the Thunder a 1-0 win over the Bandits.

“We knew it was going to be a pitchers’ duel, and we just had to keep doing our best to try and put the bat on the ball,” Gardner said. “And it finally happened at the right time.”

Last Tuesday night, May 29, at Sportscore 1 had a high-school sports-like atmosphere with its cheap ticket prices, mouth-watering delicacies, bleachers down the first and third baselines and fans roaming behind the fences in the outfield. And when the sun went down, it seemed like the stadium lights shined directly on the middle of the infield, spotlighting Rockford’s Cat Osterman and Chicago’s Jennie Finch.

“This was an amazing game,” Osterman said of her National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) debut. “I didn’t think this many people would turn out. We’re happy we had a great debut, and hopefully we can get fans back out here.”

Both Osterman and Finch had impressive performances, establishing control over each batter. They went pitch for pitch, out for out, inning for inning. Osterman not only won the game, but also had more strikeouts—24 to Finch’s 17.

It’s not that Osterman was never in danger of giving up any runs. She found herself in some trouble both early and late: with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning, and runners on second and third with one out in the third, 11th and 12th innings.

It’s just that every time she was in a jam, she appeared calm, poised and prepared to pitch her way out of it. Osterman, who said she is an emotional player and hasn’t been pitching her best game since coming to Rockford, even managed a smile after striking out Finch to make two outs in the third before striking out the next batter to end the inning.

“In one of those jams, everything just started clicking, and I felt good, so we ran with it,” Osterman said.

Osterman said she could’ve continued to pitch all night, and that she was only getting better as the game went on.

“I’m going to go as long as I can, and you’re probably going to have to carry me off the mound if I’m going to be taken out,” Osterman said.

Thunder coach Jav Vela had no intention to carry Osterman off the mound, and said if she felt good enough to keep pitching, he’d keep her in the game.

“I would think that, as long as Jennie was in there, I don’t think that she was going to come out,” Vela said. “Both of them pitched well.”

Finch remained in the game and was looking stronger and stronger until the bottom of the 12th.

The game had gone on for nearly three-and-a-half hours. The international tiebreaker rule, which automatically places a runner at second base to begin each inning after the ninth, proved irrelevant for two-and-a-half innings. The crowd had been waiting patiently for someone to score a run.

Thunder outfielder Kristen Zaleski was placed at second with first-year player Audrey Rendon leading off to start the bottom half of the inning. The crowd along the third baseline behind the Thunder bench decided now was the time to get something going. “Double zero.” Stomp, stomp. Clap, clap, clap. “Be a hero,” they chanted as the rookie approached the plate.

It worked.

Rendon’s bunt placed the ball perfectly down the third baseline, making her safe at first, while advancing Zaleski to third and bringing Amanda Freed up to bat.

After Rendon advanced to second, Freed hit a grounder to shortstop Laura Harms, who threw out Zaleski at home plate, making Freed safe at first with Rendon at third. Freed moved to second on a defensive indifference, which brought up Finch’s former college teammate, Mackenzie Vandergeest, who drew a walk to load the bases.

The next batter, Serena Settlemier, struck out, looking at Finch’s pitch. With two outs and the bases loaded, it seemed inevitable Finch’s unrelenting pitching would work her way out of the jam.

Lindsay Gardner finally made solid contact, lining the ball to left, scoring 00, Audrey Rendon, who excited the crowd earlier by diving to catch a line drive to record the first out of the game.

“It was two good teams against each other,” Finch said. “We knew whoever got that one break or that one hit would win it, and it didn’t come until late.”

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

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