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Cat Osterman first champion of new Athletes Unlimited softball league

Cat Osterman thought 2020 would bring a chance to win her second Olympic gold medal. The legendary softball pitcher instead will settle for being the first Athletes Unlimited champion.

Osterman, who chose to play in the fledgling professional softball league only after the Olympics were postponed until next summer, wrapped up the inaugural title when the team she captained beat a team captained by Jessie Warren 18-3 in Monday's season finale in Rosemont, Illinois.

Athletes Unlimited is a four-team league in which players earn points based on individual and team performance. The four leading scorers draft new teams for each of five weeks of games and an individual champion, rather than a team champion, is crowned at the end of the season.

Osterman, 37, finished the season with 2,408 points, 388 more than Warren in second place. She was a captain in each of the final four weeks, the only player to earn that distinction.

"I'm not going to lie," Osterman said in a postgame television interview, "At 37, I'm pretty damn proud of what I've done."

With control of her team's lineup as captain, but also a sizable points lead entering the day, Osterman started pitcher Haylie Wagner in the finale instead of herself. Osterman's team fell behind 3-0 but scored 18 runs across the fourth and fifth innings to take control and remove any need for the ace to enter the game in relief.

Players earn points based on individual statistics, team wins (for games and innings) and an MVP vote after each game. Osterman earned the most points from individual statistics and the most from MVP voting. She tied catcher Gwen Svekis, who was on her team all five weeks, for the most points from wins. Osterman finished with a 1.53 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 64 innings. Her teams went 13-2 over the five-week season.

Osterman also struck out a league-record 16 batters in a Week 4 game.

After Warren, who led the league with a .510 batting average, Canadian Olympian Victoria Hayward finished third. Italian Olympian Erika Piancastelli and Svekis finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

U.S. Olympian Haylie McCleney was named the defensive player of the year, based on a vote of her peers and fans.

All players earn a base salary of $10,000 and can earn as much as an additional $25,000 in performance bonuses -- including a sliding scale based on the final standings.

The Athletes Unlimited championship is the latest entry on a lengthy résumé for one of softball's all-time greats. Osterman won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2004 Olympics, when the tall left-hander was the youngest player on the team. She won a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics, the last to include softball until the Tokyo Games. She also won two world championships with Team USA and four championships in National Pro Fastpitch.

Although she didn't win an NCAA title at Texas, she reached the Women's College World Series three times and remains the only three-time national player of the year.

She came out of retirement in 2018 in hopes of winning another Olympic gold medal. Entering 2020, she planned to travel to Bali, Indonesia, with her husband after the Olympics ended in August and soon start a family. Instead, wearing No. 38 in Athletes Unlimited as a nod to her age during next summer's rescheduled Games, she proved again to be among the best of all time.

"It's not in my nature to call things quits," Osterman said shortly before opening day in August. "A lot of the career has been adapt and adjust, so I'm just going to continue to do that."