This year has been pivotal for women’s softball, thanks to the inaugural season of the Athletes Unlimited softball league. Athletes Unlimited has introduced an exciting new spin on the game of softball. There are no coaches or playoffs, and players compete on a new team each week. Each team is led by a captain who is responsible for making group decisions and drafting players. Players can earn points for both team and individual statistics. Offensive players earn points for hits, walks, stolen bases, and hit-by-pitches. Pitchers earn points for each out they record and lose points for each earned run. All players on a team can win points after winning an inning or a game. The point system incentivizes players to succeed as a team as well as individually. At the end of the season, one player with the most points will become the league champion.
The four players with the most points at the end of each week serve as captains for the following week. Unlike traditional coaches or general managers, the captains make decisions for their teams while playing in the game. This ensures team decisions are made by players and gives different players each week an opportunity to have a leadership role. Captains also have the opportunity to select players they want to have on their team. Becoming a captain and being selected by a good team serve as motivations for players to perform and score well.
In order to play in the league, all players live in a dormitory in a shielded environment over the span of the five-week season. One week of play remains before the player with the most points is awarded league champion, and medals are given to the three runner-ups.
The league features many of the best players in women’s softball, and players of all positions, ages, and skill levels have found success in the past four weeks of league play. The league features 57 players, including twenty players who will play softball at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, representing Canada, Italy, Mexico, and the United States. Players who can compete in multiple positions have had remarkable success, including Aleshia Ocasio, who can pitch, bat, and play the outfield, and Savannah Jaquish, who can play any non-pitching defensive position with an unmatched performance on offense. The league features several rookies who just finished their collegiate careers in March, as well as veterans like two-time Olympic medalist Cat Osterman, who is the league’s oldest player at 37 years of age. Unlike other professional softball leagues, where nearly all players have played at top NCAA Division I programs, the league has many players who played in college at the Division I and II levels and one player, Joey Lye, who played Division III softball at Williams College.
Since Week One, the leader board has been dominated by Osterman. Osterman, a left-handed pitcher and a member of the United States national team, brings, by far, the most decorated resume and the most experience to the league. Osterman’s low earned-run-average at 1.02 is the best in the league, and through Week Three, she was undefeated with a record of 9-0 in the circle. Osterman, along with outfielder Janie Reed, outfielder Victoria Hayward, and third-baseman Jessie Warren, ranked one through four respectively in Week Three and captained a team in Week Four.
Osterman pitched her first loss on Saturday when she relinquished an uncharacteristic four earned runs to captain Victoria Hayward’s team, two of which were home runs off of the bat of Jaquish. Jaquish leads the league in homeruns with eight. Pitcher Haylie Wagner, who lost several pitching duels to Osterman earlier in the season, was credited with the complete game victory for Team Hayward against Team Osterman. Wagner has also proven to be dominant in the circle this season, ranking fourth in ERA behind Osterman, Ocasio, and Danielle O’Toole. Osterman’s team faced a devastating 11-0 loss again on Sunday to captain Jessie Warren’s team, though Osterman herself did not make an appearance in the game. Despite the uncharacteristic losses for Osterman, she still remains poised to be the league champion next week. She finished Week Four with a sixteen-strikeout performance in a victory against Team Reed on Monday night.
Until Week Three, Ocasio, a Glenolden, PA resident, ranked second just behind Osterman. Ocasio is a two-way player who has succeeded both on offense and in the circle. Ocasio’s ERA sits just below Osterman’s at 1.73. Due to a family emergency, Ocasio took a leave of absence during Week Three and fell in the rankings. Ocasio had two excellent pitching performances this weekend as part of Team Warren, including a complete game win over captain Janie Reed’s team and a win over Team Hayward against a lineup with three dangerous hitters including Jaquish, who ranks sixth, Haylie McCleney, who ranks seventh, and Hayward, who ranks fifth in the league. Ocasio now ranks fourth in the league, in a position to be a captain and receive a medal next weekend. Ocasio was also 3-3 at the plate with a triple and two singles in Team Warren’s win over Team Hayward. Team Warren also succeeded offensively this weekend, with homeruns hit by Warren and catcher Erika Piancastelli who rank second and third in the league respectively. Team Warren was the only team to post a 3-0 record this past weekend.
Outfielder Janie Reed’s team posted a losing record this weekend despite excellent pitching efforts by Danielle O’Toole. Team Osterman went 1-2 and Team Hayward went 2-1 in Week Four. A bright spot for team Hayward occurred on two occasions of back-to-back homeruns hit by Jaquish and McCleney in two separate games this weekend.
Heading into next week, despite her uncharacteristic losses this past weekend, Osterman still remains above her competitors at the top of the leaderboard and is in a position to win league champion if her stellar pitching performances continue through next week. The captains for the final week of play will be Osterman, Warren, Piancastelli, and Ocasio, who currently rank in the top four positions. Despite outstanding performances by all four captains this past weekend, the top four medal recipients cannot yet be certain with Hayward, Jaquish, and McCleney trailing close behind the top four ranks. Osterman’s uncharacteristic losses this week and Ocasio’s swift rise in rankings after her return will only make next week’s competition more intense.