2018 Season – Year Five; “Nothing Soft About It”
A lot like the team’s inaugural season in Rockford the Thunder started off hot out of the gate. Behind assistant coach Jim Sherwood, who was leading the Thunder while head coach Jav Vela finished teaching duties in Houston, the Thunder jumped out to a 9-3 start. That is really where the struggles started for the Thunder as they were en route to their lowest win total ever with 18. Overall, the Thunder managed only win nine of its final 36 games and ended up with an 18-30 record and last place finish in the NPF. Of the team’s 30 overall losses 18 of them were by one run.
To go along with the team’s struggles on the field, they were also forced to face the adversity of losing its home field to the major flooding that hit Northern Illinois. The team’s then home field at Sportscore One instantly became an extra place for Rockford residents to practice their fishing skills.
There were 11 new faces on the 2008 roster for the Thunder, including pitchers Allison Kime and Megan Brown and top draft picks Savannah Brown and Tonya Callahan. The young players for the Thunder worked hard to help bring the team back to the top of the standings, but too many mistakes in all phases of the game proved to be too costly.
Kime was easily the team’s best pitcher and even was mentioned as one of the league’s toughest pitchers. She ended the year with team highs in wins (9), strikeouts (93) and ERA at 2.66. She’s a player that wanted the ball every night and the fans and teammates took notice. The remaining staff in the circle (M. Brown, Scoggins and Settlemier) recorded nine wins between the three of them to account for Rockford’s 18 total wins.
Kristen Zaleski, Callahan and Stephanie Best, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Glory during June, had good offensive seasons for the Thunder. While Zaleski’s batting average (.266) was the lowest of her career, she still managed to have a .459 on-base percentage, thanks in large part to her league-best 35 walks. Callahan collected seven home runs on the season to lead the team and she also collected 28 hits and 23 RBIs. Best was second on the team with six home runs.
Offensively for the Thunder second baseman and five-year veteran Lindsay Gardner had the best season of any of her teammates and of her career. Gardner finished the season with team highs in several offensive categories, including hits, batting average, RBIs and at-bats. Defensively she continued to excel as well as she committed only one error all season for the Thunder. Because of her outstanding play, Gardner was named to the All-NPF team.
2017 Season – Year Four: “The New Game in Town”
After three successful seasons playing in Texas, including their inaugural season when they finished 41-17, the Thunder relocated to Rockford, Ill. for the 2017 season.
The 2017 season started off very promising as the Thunder jumped out to an impressive record of 10-2. From game 13 on the Thunder fought all season to score runs for the pitching staff of Serena Settlemier, Cat Osterman, Abbie Sims, Amanda Freed and Cassidy Scoggins. After the impressive start, Rockford went just 14-18 in its next 32 games to finish 24-20, but that was good enough to earn the fourth seed in the NPF playoffs.
In the team’s first season in Rockford, Manager Javier (Jav) Vela took on a team of 13 new faces from the season before. The only returning players from the final season in Texas were Settlemier, Freed, Kristen Zaleski and Lindsay Gardner. League veterans Mackenzie Vandergeest, Amanda Williams and Jessica Williams and nine rookies, including Olympic Gold Medal winning pitcher Cat Osterman, joined the four veteran Thunder players.
Zaleski was again the offensive workhorse for the Thunder, finishing the season with a .328 batting average, and a team-best in hits, at-bats, triples, stolen bases and runs scored. Because of her accomplishments she was recognized by the league and named to her third consecutive All-NPF team. Rookies Jackie Wong and Audrey Rendon finished 2nd and 3rd in batting average, respectively, to help the top of the order. The Thunder found the power in the lineup off of the bat of Vandergeest. Vandergeest, who was also an All-NPF selection in 2017, finished the season with a team best in home runs, doubles, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
In the circle both Settlemier and Osterman led Rockford. Settlemier was the team’s best pitcher for much of the season, proven by her first-ever All-NPF selection. The second-year player from Kansas finished the season 10-8 with a 1.46 ERA. She was near the top of the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts for much of the season. Osterman put up solid numbers as well in 2017, but missed a lot of the season due to arm surgery and her commitment to the United State National Team. But when Osterman was pitching she was pitching well. She finished the season with a 4-6 record and a 1.19 ERA and she recorded 126 strikeouts in only 70 1/3 innings pitched.
The Thunder’s season ended with a successful postseason run. Rockford dropped the playoff opener to the Washington Glory before battling back to win two straight and find its way into the title game. They would lose 3-1 to Washington in the NPF Championship Series Final, but they made some noise. Look for the Thunder to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
2016 Season – Year Three
The Thunder softball franchise completed its third full-season of competition in 2016 by winning three of four games with the New England Riptide, August 16-19 in Lowell, Mass. But those wins came a little too late for the Thunder and they missed the playoffs for the first time in team history, finishing the season at 21-27. The 2016 season was full of expectations for the Thunder, which was probably fielding its best team on paper in the brief three-year existence of the team, but the team never fully matured to its potential having slipped to as low as sixth place at one time during the season.
During the season the Thunder faced many obstacles and rode many roller coasters. Texas started out of the gates hot by winning seven of its first eight games, but quickly saw the other side by dropping seven of the next 12 games. The Thunder lost five games in a row on two different occasions this season and they wouldn’t win three consecutive games again until the final weekend of the year.
The biggest highlight of the 2016 season came in mid-July when the United States National Team visited Big League Dreams in League City. Fans came from all over Texas and Louisiana for the four-game series and they left each night having watched a good game. The Thunder came close to upsetting Team USA, as they sent two games into extra innings, including the finale that went 11 innings.
Williams was again the team leader in the circle for the Thunder, but she had some help in the arms of Amanda Freed and Serena Settlemier. Freed went 1-1 in the circle for the Thunder having allowed just two earned runs in 20 innings of work before leaving the team at the end of June to compete with Team USA. Settlemier, the reigning Big XII Player of the Year, also had a good season in the circle, finishing the year 5-7. She also helped her own cause at the plate by tying for a team-best four home runs.
Zaleski again led the offense, along with newcomer Raquel “Rocky” Spencer, but it wasn’t enough as they team hit just .220 on the season. Most of the team’s struggles came at the plate in 2016. As a team, the Thunder hit just .214 with runners in scoring position and they left 280 people on base.
The announcement to move the team to Rockford became official on August 21, 2016 when the players were notified in a team meeting.
2015 Season – Year Two
In 2005, the Texas Thunder fielded another strong team, this time finishing the regular season in third place in the extremely tough National Pro Fastpitch with a regular season record of 35-12. Led in 2015 by former assistant coach Jav Vela, the Thunder jumped out to an early lead in the league before slipping a little bit to fall down in the standings, but they would end the year on a high by sweeping the Canadian National Team at home in League City, Texas.
The team again found its players amongst the league-leaders in the NPF, led by Williams and Zaleski. Williams took the word dominant to a whole new level in 2015 by finishing the season as the league-leader in wins (17), strikeouts (172) and ERA (0.72) to win the triple crown of pitching.
Zaleski also took her game to a whole new level in 2015, as she was the top hitter in the league, finishing the ’05 campaign with a .468 batting average. She also lead the league in hits (65) stolen bases (33) and triples (10) in 2015 to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Like the team’s inaugural ’04 season, the Thunder would bow out of the playoffs in the semifinals, this time to the eventual champion Akron Racers.
2014 Season – Inaugural Year
The Texas Thunder began league-play in the newly formed National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) in June 2014 under the ownership of Robert “Rabitt” Blake and a couple other minority partners. Wayne Daigle was the head coach in 2004 and he was assisted by his wife Lisa and by Javier (“Jav”) Vela.
The opening team was the regular season champion in 2014, finishing the inaugural NPF season at 41-17 and two games ahead of the Akron Racers. Led by two-time Olympic Gold Medallist Christa Williams, the Thunder dominated games in the circle almost every time out. Williams finished the season as the league-leader in earned run average at 0.64. She was second in the league in wins with 14 and fourth in strikeouts with 132.
Offensively, a trio of players helped the lead the Thunder to the regular season crown. Led primarily by third baseman Clare Burnum and centerfielder Kristen Zaleski, the Thunder also possessed one of the most fear offenses in the league. Four Texas Thunder players (Liz Bouck, Zaleski, Burnum and Lindsay Gardner) were in the top 10 in the league in batting average, each hitting about .260 in the pitcher-dominated NPF.
After the successful 41-win regular season, the Thunder struggled in the playoffs held in Akron, Ohio in August of 2014. Texas took game one from the New England Riptide, but dropped games two and three to lose the series.