Here is the dilemma facing Rick Bertagnolli and the Pennsylvania Rebellion softball team.
How do you prepare for the inaugural season of the National Pro Fastpitch league with limited exposure to the opposing players and teams in the league?
How do you learn their tendencies, understand where to place your defense against certain hitters, or figure out the weaknesses of the opponent when the team has not played a game?
The answer is an easy one for Bertagnolli.
“I’m more concerned about us,” said Bertagnolli, named the Rebellion manager in January. “I’m concerned about how we play right now. As the season goes on, that will change.”
So the NPF debut of the Rebellion Friday against the defending champions USSSA Pride in Salisbury, Md., will not only begin the season but also start the learning process. Olympian Cat Osterman, one of the most recognizable names in the league, is expected to be the starter for the Pride.
With just four teams in the league – the Rebellion, Pride, Chicago Bandits and Akron Racers – teams will become quite familiar with each other in the coming weeks.
First pitch in the series between the Rebellion and Pride is 7:05 p.m.
The games will be webcast through msasports.net. A link is expected to be up on the Rebellion’s website (rebellionprosoftball.com) before the first game.
The Rebellion will play their home opener Thursday, June 5 at Consol Energy Park in the first of a four-game series with the Pride.
“Throughout the years, I’ve seen some NPF games,” said Bertagnolli, who also is the head coach of the California University women’s softball team.
“Right now, I’m not really concerned about whether we’re playing on turf or grass, what type of stadium. I’m concerned about how we’re going to perform.”
Bertagnolli knows the first season will be the most difficult, and most chaotic. He has held practices with a little more than a dozen players as some, such as pitcher Dallas Escobedo, are coming off college postseasons and might not join the team right away. So, opponents will be unfamiliar with most of the Rebellion players.
“All those strategies just aren’t there,” Bertagnolli said. “We’ve got to go out and do the film work and statistical process as the season goes on.”
The following is a brief look at the three teams competing against the Rebellion in the league.
Head coach – Gerry Glasco, 1st season
2013 Record – 34-14, 2nd Place
Notes – The Pride are the defending champions of the league, thanks to their best-of-three victory over the Chicago Bandits in the season-ending tournament. … The most familiar name not only on the team but in the league is pitcher Cat Osterman, an Olympic Gold Medalist on the 2004 team and silver medalist in 2008. She was the NPF Pitcher of the Year in 2013 after going 17-4 with a 1.06 ERA. She tossed 9 1/3 shutout innings in the championships series against Chicago, striking out nine. Osterman has two Pan-Am gold medals and three World Championship titles. … Shortstop Natasha Watley is a former NPF Player of the Year and is coming off a season in which she hit .363. … Catcher Kristyn Sandberg was Rookie of the Year (.355, 33 RBI, .504 OBP, .624 slug.) in 2012 and hit two home runs in the championship series last year, including the championship-clincher.
Notable quote – “They have great athleticism,” Bertagnolli said. “They have great pitching and hit the ball.”
Hidden fact – USSSA stands for United States Specialty Sports Association.
Head coach – Shane Winkler
2013 Record – 36-12, First
Notes – The Bandits have one of the best hitting and fielding shortstops in the league in Tammy Williams. The fifth-year player was named Defensive Player of the Year and hit .362 last season. She led the league with 97 assists. … Outfielder Megan Wiggins was named the league’s Player of the Year after leading the league in average (.433), home runs (11), slugging percentage (.780), OBP (.532) and OPS (1.312). … Pitcher Andi Williamson made the league’s first team as a rookie. She graduated from Marshall University and set school record with 33 wins and 364 strikeouts in her senior season.
Notable quote – “This is a very good pitching team,” Bertagnolli said.
Hidden fact – Former Olympian Jenny Finch pitched for the Bandits for six seasons and was named by People Magazine as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2004.
Head coach – Brian Levin
2013 Record – 16-32, Third
Notes – If you had to choose a word to describe Akron, it would be young. The roster has a combined seven years of experience in the NPF. … Third baseman Kelley Montalvo made an appearance on the MTV show “Made” in 2012. … The Akron team was originally called the Orlando Wahoos and was based in the same town that the USSSA Pride now calls home.
Notable quote – “They are more similar to us because they have a lot of new players,” said Bertagnolli.
Hidden fact – Outfielder Ayumi Karino became the first Japanese player to sign with a NPF team when she agreed to a contract with Akron last year.
Rebellion tentative depth chart:
Pitchers – Dallas Escobedo, Sarah Pauly, Angel Bunner, Anna Miller
Catcher – Nicole Morgan, Lauren Lapin
First base – Bianca Mejia, Courtney Liddle, Lara Andrews
Second base – Lauren Lapin, Samantha Garcia
Third base – Jenn Salling, Bianca Mejia, Lara Andrews
Outfielders – Ashley Carter, Angeline Quiocho, B.B. Bates, Brittney Lindley, Andie Varsho, Nikia Williams