Last updated: July 18. 2013 2:30PM - 298 Views
Paul Adkins
Sports Editor

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Andi Williamson has made it to the Windy City.

No, she’s not on a sight-seeing tour.

She has joined her new team — the Chicago Bandits — of the National Pro Fastpitch women’s softball league.

Williamson, a 2009 Chapmanville High School graduate and Harts native, just finished off an outstanding collegiate career with the Marshall University women’s softball team. She signed with the Bandits last week.

Williamson has donned her new jersey number 17 with the pro team but has yet to see action on the field.

The Bandits, which play in the four-team professional league, have a 3-1 record going into its next game — set for Thursday at the New York/New Jersey Comets. Chicago lost to the Akron Racers, 5-4, on Saturday at home. The Bandits blasted Akron 14-0 last Friday night.

The other NPF team is the USSSA Pride. The National Pro Fastpitch league was been playing since 2004. The league was founded as the Women’s Pro Softball League in 1997 but folded in 2001. The new league was relaunched three years later.

The pro softball league has its roots all the way back to the 1970s in the post Title IX years when the sport and women’s athletics began to take off in the U.S.

Williamson comes to Chicago after a stellar collegiate career.

After graduating from Chapmanville and playing one season at the University of Tennessee, Williamson transferred to Marshall for her sophomore year.

She led the Conference USA in number of wins in 2011 and set a Marshall record of 33 wins with 364 strikeouts during her senior year. She closed out her career at Marshall with 731 strikeouts in three years.

Williamson is the daughter of Andy Paul and Beth Williamson. Her dad, Andy Paul, played for Marshall basketball from 1987-90 and still ranks 12th all-time in MU records for career assists with 299. She has two brothers, Paul Herbert (20) and Drew (13) plus one sister, Ali (11). Paul led Logan High School to the 2010 Class AAA state basketball championship.

Williamson said she’s happy to join the Bandits’ organization.

“I couldn’t have done this without my three coaches, who have helped me develop as a person and player,” she said in an earlier statement. “I am thankful for the support from the Marshall community and I am proud to say that I will always be a part of the Thundering Herd. The Chicago Bandits are a top-notch organization and I’m very excited to be a part of the Bandit family.”

The Chicago Bandits have a rich history.

The team has played since 2005 and won the NPF championship in 2008 by defeating the Washington Glory in the final game of the championship series.

The Bandits play their home games at the Ballpark at Rosemont in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill. It’s the only softball facility in the nation built specifially for pro softball.

In its inaugural season in 2005, the Bandits had a league best 41-7 record but lost to Akron in the championship series.

Former Bandits’ players include U.S. Olympians Jennie Finch, Vicky Galindo and Caitlin Lever. Finch led the United States to the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Softball did not return as an Olympic sport in 2012 at London and won’t be back for the 2016 Games in Rio. Efforts are currently under way to return softball and baseball as Olympic sports for the 2020 Games which will be held in Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul, Turkey.

Finch, a pitcher, retired from pro softball in 2010 after six seasons and was described by Time magazine as the most famous softball player in the sport’s history upon retirement. She is now a TV softball analyst for ESPN.

In the Bandits’ loss to the Racers last Friday, Nikki Nemitz made her first start of the season as she hurled six innings before being relieved by Michelle Gascoigne, who was fresh off a Women’s College World Series championship with the University of Oklahoma. It was the pro debut for Gascoigne.

Gascoigne, who was the winning pitcher in the Women’s College World Series championship game just played days ago, emerged this past season to provide a stellar 1-2 punch with Keilani Ricketts at Oklahoma. She ended the season with the best ERA in the country at 0.88 and had 208 strikeouts. She ranked fourth nationally with a strikeout ratio of 10.7 per seven innings.

Oklahoma defeated Tennessee 4-0 to win the 2013 Women’s College World Series, earning the second national championship for the program. The Sooners are only the fifth team to win multiple national titles.

Nemitz, in her fourth pro season, played college ball at Michigan. Chicago’s other two pitchers are Monica Abbott, a seventh-year pro from Tennessee and Mel Dumezich, a rookie from Texas A&M.

National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) is headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. The league, created to give elite female fastpitch players the opportunity to pursue a professional career in their chosen sport, has operated since 1997 under the names of Women’s Pro Fastpitch (WPF) and Women’s Pro Softball League (WPSL). NPF is the Official Development Partner of Major League Baseball in the category of women’s fastpitch softball and has been since 2002.

The WPSL captured the attention of fastpitch softball fans worldwide when it exploded onto America’s sports scene in 1997. The WPSL regularly showcased an unparalleled brand of fastpitch softball played by the world’s best female athletes.

The WPSL can trace its origins back to the first professional softball league. Former LPGA Tour member Janie Blaylock, softball legend Joan Joyce and tennis icon Billie Jean King, founded the International Women’s Professional Softball Association (IWPSA) in 1976. The league featured 10 teams in cities across the nation, including Meriden, Conn., Chicago, Ill., Prescott, Ariz. and San Jose, Calif. In the WPSA’s first season, each team played a 120-game schedule that featured 60 doubleheaders.

The fledgling association survived four seasons before lack of funds, high travel costs and inadequate facilities ultimately led to its demise. Despite the absence of a professional league, the following decade proved to be extremely prosperous for the sport of fastpitch softball in the United States.

In 1982, the NCAA began to sanction the Women’s College World Series, a move that led to increased participation and exposure for the sport.

Women’s softball was also further popularized with Team USA’s run to the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Olympic softball games were held at Golden Park in nearby Columbus, Ga. The United States beat China 3-1 in the Gold Medal Game before a record 8,750 fans.

On Nov. 21, 2002, WPSL announced a rebranding strategy and official name change to National Pro Fastpitch. Major League Baseball partnered with NPF as its Official Development partner as a continuation of MLB’s efforts to connect with female athletes and women.

As part of its long-term sales, marketing and promotional campaign, NPF featured an All-Star Tour in 2003. The tour provided each of the league’s expansion team owners with tools to lay the groundwork in their marketplace for the official launch of league play in 2004.

In 2004, all the hard work and planning paid-off for fans, athletes, coaches and league officials with the relaunch of the league in six markets: Stockton, California; Tucson, Arizona; Houston, Texas; Akron, Ohio; Lowell, Massachusetts; Montclair, New Jersey.

The 2004 season was distinguished by 178 league-wide games, 96 of the best female softball players in the country, the continued support of Major League Baseball as the Official Development Partner of NPF in the category of women’s fastpitch softball, NPF playoffs (both best of three series went three games) and the inaugural NPF Championship with the NY/NJ Juggernaut capturing the Championship Cowles Cup with a victory over the New England Riptide, fourth place finisher in the regular season.

The 2005 regular season included a total of 144 games and 23 opponents including six NPF teams, plus women’s ASA major teams and international teams such as Canada, Mexico, Russia, Venezuela, China and Australia. The season concluded the last weekend in August when the Akron Racers beat the Chicago Bandits 5-4 in extra innings to claim the NPF Championship Title.

In 2009, the League’s five affiliate teams (Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Florida Pride, Philadelphia Force, Washington Glory) played a 50-game regular season schedule with all teams playing each other a minimum of 10 games (5 home and 5 away). Unlike the 2008 season, Olympic teams and foreign national teams will not be a part of the competitive schedule. throughout the 2009 Season.

After winning a silver medal with the USA Softball Team, several Olympians returned to NPF action in 2009, including Monica Abbott (Washington), Jennie Finch (Chicago), and Cat Osterman (Rockford), three of the best softball pitchers in the world.

The Chicago Bandits once again captured the Regular Season Champion title for the second season in a row. The 2009 Championship Series was held in Akron, Ohio, with the Rockford Thunder capturing the coveted Cowles Cup as they defeated the USSSA Florida Pride. Cat Osterman was named the Series MVP.

In 2010, Each team in the League played a 50-game regular season schedule with all four teams (Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Florida Pride, and Tennessee Diamonds) playing each other a minimum of 15 games. There was a total of 100 regular season games played.

The 2010 regular season finished on Aug. 22, crowning the Chicago Bandits as a 3-time Ringor Cup Regular Season Champion.

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