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Rebellion trying to find their way in National Pro Fastpitch

| Thursday, July 17, 2014, 10:25 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Rebellion pitcher Sarah Pauly delivers during their game against the Akron Racers on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Park in Washington, Pa.

When the Washington Wild Things were selected to host the 2013 Frontier League All-Star Game, the team needed ideas.

They wanted to add to the festivities and turn the game into more of an event that would spotlight Consol Energy Park. So the team's front office decided to take a page out of Major League Baseball's book.

The team invited National Pro Fastpitch's Akron Racers to take on the Frontier League All-Stars, forcing the baseball players to adapt to the shorter distance between the pitching rubber and home plate.

“The placed was packed. People loved it,” said Deb Hilton, the team's public relations and social media manager. “They stayed around for the game, so we got to talking (softball) once the season ended.”

When the NPF's New Jersey/New York Comets folded in November 2013, leaving just three teams in the league, that conversation became more serious. Soon the Wild Things front office doubled as the front office of the Pennsylvania Rebellion, which became the newest addition to NPF softball after acquiring the contracts of many former Comets players.

They also had the first pick in the 2014 NPF Draft and selected All-American pitcher Dallas Escobedo from Arizona State, followed by now-starting catcher Taylor Edwards of Nebraska in the second round.

The roster — as with others in the NPF — is filled with former all-conference and all-NCAA players, even one former Olympian in infielder Lauren Lappin, a Stanford alumna. Yet professional softball is a tough brand to sell.

While semiprofessional and professional baseball teams rely on weekend games for big crowds and big revenues, that model doesn't fit with the Rebellion's key demographic: young girls interested in the sport and their families.

“Western Pennsylvania is known for softball. These girls play, they eat, sleep and breathe softball,” Hilton said. “The problem is, on the weekends they're playing tournaments, so it's hard for them to come.”

On Wednesday night, they served as a focal point in the team's pregame festivities, accompanying the team's starters on the field during the National Anthem in their own jerseys. The crowd never grew beyond a few hundred in a 3,200-seat ballpark, but a sizable portion of it was young softball players.

“Little girls come up to us after the game and say, ‘We never knew there was professional softball. This has been my dream,' kind of thing,” said Sarah Prezioso, a Rebellion infielder and Temple alumna. “Coming out of college and knowing that I have that influence is pretty uplifting.”

A young team that hadn't played much together prior to this year, the Rebellion (5-23 after Thursday's 5-3 loss to Akron) is in last place in the NPF, but the beauty of a four-team league is that every team makes the playoffs. With a month left in the regular season, there's no ruling out a postseason run.

That's especially the case when the NPF's other teams — the Akron Racers, the Chicago Bandits, and the USSSA Pride of Kissimmee, Fla. — start to become more familiar.

“They find your weaknesses, and you find theirs,” outfielder Angeline Quiocho said. “It's more like we have something to prove to every single team every time.”

Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com.

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