The National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) women’s softball league will open the season with a game between the Aussie Spirits and Beijing Shougang Eagles. Both Australia and China are boosting their softball programmes ahead of this year’s WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan.

The NPF, the U.S. pro softball league, announced its 2018 regular season schedule last week, with a total of 120 regular season games, 48 for each team. The season will be staggered to allow the Beijing and Aussie to compete in the WBSC world championship from 2-12 August.

The NPF is entering its 15th season and will feature five total teams, including Aussie Spirit, Beijing Shougang Eagles, Chicago Bandits, Cleveland Comets, and USSSA Florida Pride.

The USSSA Florida Pride will spend part of its preseason in Europe, thanks to a joint effort by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) and the United States Specialty Sport Association (USSSA) to bring the three-time NPF champions to the Old World. The USSSA European Pro Series presented by WBSC will feature games against Italy, Netherlands and Czech Republic national teams, closing the trip with a clinic at the Softball Academy of France in Boulouris, Côte d’Azur, on May 4.

The Aussie Spirit (Australia Women’s National Team) will play its debut season in the NPF, as a part of its road to Tokyo 2020. The Aussie Spirit players will be based at Missouri Western University and play home games at various stadiums in Missouri and surrounding states.

The Beijing Shougang Eagles, which is under the Chinese Softball Association, is entering its second NPF season, after their 2017 debut. Last season, they ended the regular season in sixth place, with 3 wins and 44 losses, with a roster almost fully composed by Chinese national team players.

The final game of the regular season will be played on 12 August, while the NPF Championship Series will be played from 16-20 August.

Last year, the now defunct Scrap Yard Dawgs claimed their first Cowles Cup in franchise history with a 5-2 win over the USSSA Pride in the winner-take-all contest of the final series in the 2017 NPF Championship.