Louisiana-Lafayette's Lexie Elkins picked first in NPF draft

Lousiana-Lafayette catcher Lexie Elkins was the first pick in the National Pro Fastpitch draft. Courtesy: Louisiana-Lafayette

After investing in pitching during the franchise's first two seasons, the Pennsylvania Rebellion used the first overall pick in Thursday's National Pro Fastpitch draft to go in search of run support.

And few college softball players ever produced runs at quite the same rate as Louisiana-Lafayette catcher Lexie Elkins, the Rebellion's choice at No. 1 in the professional league's selection proceedings in Nashville, Tennessee.

The first-ever picks by the Houston-based Scrap Yard Dawgs, the league's newest franchise, and another high-profile addition for the USSSA Pride also highlighted the six-round, six-team draft. But it started with Elkins, who got a late start on prolific power-hitting numbers in college.

The NCAA Division I leader this season in batting average, slugging percentage and home runs for a Louisiana-Lafayette team ranked No. 4 in the nation, Elkins is also tied for 13th in Division I history with 72 career home runs. That's all the more impressive considering she didn't hit any home runs as a freshman at Texas Tech before transferring to Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Rebellion, who used the No. 1 overall pick to select pitcher Dallas Escobedo in 2014, will hope Elkins can spark what was the league's most anemic offense a season ago.

Already home to some of the sport's most recognizable young stars in Lauren Chamberlain, Keilani Ricketts and Hannah Rogers, as well as former Olympians Andrea Duran, Natasha Watley and Kelly Kretschman, the USSSA Pride selected Michigan All-American Sierra Romero with the second overall pick Thursday.

In addition to a .444 career batting average for Michigan, which reached the championship round of the Women's College World Series in 2015, Romero currently ranks fourth in NCAA Division I history with an .892 slugging percentage and is tied for 11th in career home runs.

The Akron Racers then used back-to-back first-round picks to stockpile versatility. The third overall pick, James Madison's Jailyn Ford, is one of college softball's best pitchers and a proven power hitter. Missouri infielder Sami Fagan, the fourth overall pick, can play almost every position.

After the Pride used their second first-round pick on Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley, the Dawgs closed out the first round by making Nebraska outfielder Kiki Stokes their first-ever draftee and then took Missouri outfielder Emily Crane with the first pick of the second round.

Among other notable selections: The Chicago Bandits took UCF pitcher Shelby Turnier with the 11th pick, the first pick for the defending champions; the Pride took Florida's Kelsey Stewart and Alabama's Haylie McCleney with the 12th and 13th picks, respectively; the Dallas Charge selected Oregon pitcher Cheridan Hawkins with the 29th pick; and the Rebellion used their final pick, 36th overall, on LSU's Bianka Bell.

In the cases of Stewart, McCleney, Hawkins and Bell -- All-Americans and four of the biggest names in college softball -- international commitments likely played a part in slipping in the draft. Stewart, McCleney and Bell are on the current roster for the United States national team, which will compete this summer in the ISF World Championship, while Hawkins is also involved with USA Softball.

The Pride then used the draft's penultimate pick on Florida catcher Aubree Munro, also a member of Team USA.

Although NPF teams and Team USA will play exhibition games this year, and players are not prohibited from competing in both, the league and USA Softball lack the same cooperative working relationship found between USA Basketball and the WNBA or U.S. Soccer and the NWSL.

This is the 13th consecutive year of operations for NPF, which has fluctuated between four and seven teams throughout its existence and plays a three-month summer season.