ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The season ended as scheduled Sunday for National Pro Fastpitch. But it ended without a champion for the first time in the nine-year history of the women's professional softball league because of weather delays and what the league cited as scheduling conflicts for players on both teams.
Rain initially delayed Sunday's second game in a best-of-three championship series between the Chicago Bandits and USSSA Pride from 2:30 p.m. CT to 6 p.m., the latter start time was originally assigned to a third game, if one was needed to break a tie and settle the series. The potential third game would have been played immediately after the second game under the revised schedule. But after one out was recorded in the top of the first inning in Game 2, the field was ruled unplayable. Rain continued through a delay of close to 30 minutes, and the game and series were officially canceled.
"It looked like it might stop for 45 minutes, and it would have taken all that time to get the field ready," NPF commissioner Cheri Kempf said of the rain. "And then [the chance for rain] zoomed back up to 85 percent."
Kempf said there was no contingency plan in place for playing games Monday, and the option was unfeasible on the fly, citing both the costs to the owners and obligations held by players on both teams. Several key players on both teams will travel to Japan early this week to rejoin professional teams in that country, a means of augmenting salaries that rarely reach $10,000 for the NPF's summer season.
"The Pride pretty much said they would change their arrangements. It was not an official statement, but it was more of a player statement," Kempf said. "The Bandits had six players that could not change plans, including [starting pitcher] Monica Abbott going to Japan."
The commissioner made the decision to leave the championship vacant instead of awarding it to either the Bandits, who won Game 1, or the Pride, who finished with the best regular-season record.
"I can say that the championship wasn't complete, and it wasn't complete because Chicago stated it had six players that could not finish," Kempf said. "So therefore, I don't feel like that the right thing to do is to award the championship on one game."
Bandits owners Bill Sokolis was visibly upset in a brief conversation with Kempf on the field after the game and intimated his team deserved the championship.
"We're 3-0; they've lost twice, once to us," Sokolis said of the playoff records. "That's all I say."
Sokolis also denied any suggestion that the Bandits refused to play Monday without their six players, including Abbott and starters Megan Wiggins, Shannon Doepking and Amanda Williams.
"We could have put nine players on the field," Sokolis said.
Instead of finishing with a nationally televised championship game, the season ended in confusion for the four-team league. Players on both sides expressed frustration at not having an opportunity to settle matters on the field. One of the players set to travel to Japan this week, Pride veteran and former U.S. Olympian Lauren Lappin, said she would have changed her travel plans if necessary to finish with her team here.
"It's really tough to end a season like that," Lappin said. "I don't think anyone in that dugout, and I know no one in our dugout, wanted to finish things like this. We want to play. That's why we do this; we want to play to be a champion. And that's done on the field. I don't really know what to say about the final result, final decision. I definitely think there will be things done differently in the future to prevent anything like this from happening again.
"If we want to be taken seriously, I think this needs to have a final result for our fans, for the players in the league, for the owners in the league who invest so much in this."