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Can Cat Osterman defend her Athletes Unlimited Softball title?

(Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

Cat Osterman is set to take the field in what will be her second and last Athletes Unlimited softball season.

The United States Olympian and inaugural AU champion headlines the five-week season in Rosemont, Ill, which begins with doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. Players can acquire points individually and as a team after each game. League leaders are then appointed as captains, with the ability to draft their own teams the following week.

Osterman captured AU’s first softball title in October 2020, beating out 56 other players with a total of 2,408 points. The veteran pitcher played for 13 winning teams during the 2020 season, finishing the season with 95 strikeouts and a league-leading 1.53 ERA.

The 38-year-old enters the 2021 season on the heels of an emotional Olympics. Softball returned to the Olympics this summer in Tokyo after 13 years, giving Team USA a chance at redeeming their silver medal from the 2008 Beijing Games. Osterman and Team USA advanced to the gold-medal game in Tokyo but again fell to Japan and took home the silver medal.

“Unfortunately, it’s just not been our day twice now,” Osterman said after the loss while fighting back tears. “If you told me this was the ending and I had to redo it, I would choose to do it all over again because this team has heart, has fight.”

Osterman finished the Olympic tournament second to teammate Monica Abbott in ERA and fourth in strikeouts. The Team USA veteran pitched six shutout innings against Italy in the Olympic opener, allowing only one hit. She then threw a complete-game shutout against Mexico in a 2-0 victory.

One month after the Olympics, the Athletes Unlimited season gives Osterman a final chance to take the mound. After coming out of retirement in 2018 to compete with Team USA in Tokyo, Osterman has said she’s officially hanging it up after the AU season.

Osterman will have the likes of Haylie McCleney, Jessica Warren, Victoria Hayward, Erika Piancastelli and Odicci Alexander, among other softball stars, to contend with as she looks to end her professional career with another title.

Warren finished the 2020 AU season ranked second overall in points after posting an 8-1 record as captain. Hayward finished behind her at third, leading the league in stolen bases and posting a .396 batting average. Piancastelli, a catcher who represented Italy at the Tokyo Olympics, ended the 2020 season in fourth with nine home runs and a .885 slugging percentage. McCleney, the 2020 GEICO Defensive Player of the Year, enters the AU season after a dominant Olympic run at the plate, leading all players in Tokyo with a .643 batting average leading into the gold-medal game. Alexander signed with Athletes Unlimited as a rookie following a storied career with James Madison that included a 66-strikeout performance in the 2021 Women’s College World Series.

Warren, Hayward and Piancastelli join Osterman as the first team captains, drafting their own squads for the opening weekend of competition.

The Athletes Unlimited Season starts on Saturday, with Team Hayward and Team Warren facing off at 4 p.m. ET on YouTube and Team Osterman taking on Team Piancastelli at 7 p.m. ET on FS1.

For a full schedule of the weekend’s games, click here.

Editor’s note: Athletes Unlimited is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports.