Pitcher Danielle O’Toole won the inaugural Athletes Unlimited AUX Softball competition, capping a comeback in which she went from nearly worst to first.
O’Toole finished with 1,436 points in the two-week, 42-player competition that ended Sunday morning, ending up with a 1.69 earned run average and tied for the league lead with four wins.
During the Athletes Unlimited regular season last summer, she finished 58th out of 60 competitors while trying to manage a rotator cuff injury that had forced her to get cortisone shots to compete with Team Mexico at the Olympics. She said she could barely pitch at the time because of the pain.
“I was in a really bad place, and I worked really hard to try to be able to get back to a place where I could live every day and like and be free and be happy,” she said.
She finally healed after the season, and turned out to be far ahead of schedule.
“I was not trying to come out and win it," she said of the AUX title. "I looked at AUX as a unique opportunity to get better and an opportunity to prepare for the regular AU champ season. I wasn’t planning on doing as well as I did.”
The two-week season took place at San Diego State University, where O'Toole started her college career before transferring to Arizona.
Rachel Garcia placed second in the AUX competition, and Dejah Mulipola was third. Both were on Team USA’s silver-medal squad at last year’s Olympics. Middle infielder Sis Bates was named GEICO Defensive MVP.
Individual athletes earned points based on both team wins and individual performance, with points earned on every play. Teams changed after each three-game series, with the top four athletes in the standings serving as captains and drafting their teams.
The event was created to capitalize on the interest in softball that the Women’s College World Series creates, as well as to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Title IX.
O'Toole said the AUX competition is a sign of progress.
“Our league is growing, and I’m glad that we are at the front of (the growth of women’s sports) because we just were celebrating 50 years of Title IX and thinking about all that’s happened in the last 50 years for women in sports," she said. "And then you hope that the next 50 are 100 times better because that’s what we’re fighting for.”
The third Athletes Unlimited championship softball season will run from July 29 to August 28 at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: Twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.