Ranked No. 1 in the world, Team USA faced the No. 2-ranked Japan team last night and it went to the final pitch and came down to heroics of a player who was the National Softball Player in the Year in the NCAA...
Chiba, Japan — On an evening that pitted world-ranked No. 1 Team USA against No. 2 Japan, the rivalry did not disappoint as the Red, White and Blue came-from-behind to record the 4-3 (eight innings) victory. Earning a spot in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) World Championship Gold Medal game, Team USA overcame a three-run deficit and prevailed in extra innings after a walk-off single from Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.).
After Japan led off with a single to start the first inning, two outs came on back-to-back strikeouts from Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.) before a two-run home run put Japan on top early, 2-0. Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) doubled to left field to record the first hit for the Red, White and Blue with two outs but a fly out kept the U.S. off the board.
Japan came close to extending their lead in the top of the second as a single and two-out walk put a pair of runners on, but a ball hit to centerfielder Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) was fired back to catcher Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) who made the play at the plate to get the third out. The score would hold, 2-0, in Japan’s favor after Team USA went down in order in the bottom half of the frame.
Japan extended their lead in the top of the third inning as a single and double quickly put runners in scoring position. Kelly Barnhill (Marietta, Ga.) entered the circle to get the first out before Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) came in and induced a groundout, which allowed the run to score. A strikeout by Ricketts followed to close out the inning and bring up the U.S. offense.
Team USA answered back as Munro led off with a home run to cut Japan’s lead, 3-1. The Red, White and Blue did not stop there as Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) singled before McCleney and Aguilar were issued walks to load the bases. Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) then grounded into a fielder’s choice with Stewart scoring the second run to make it 3-2.
Ricketts collected another three strikeouts through the fourth and fifth innings with the help of the U.S. defense shutting down the Japanese side. A leadoff home run by Stewart tied the ballgame in the bottom half of the fifth frame.
The U.S. defense kept Japan from plating any additional runs through the sixth as a fly out to Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Fla.) in foul territory stranded a pair of runners. Arioto was issued a walk to leadoff the bottom half but was kept from advancing after a ground out, fielder’s choice and strikeout.
Despite a pair of two-out singles, Team USA kept runners at bay in the seventh after Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.) issued a swinging strikeout with Japan called out at first on the dropped third strike.
With one out, a single by Stewart, walk to McCleney and single by Janie Reed (Placentia, Calif.) loaded the bases for the Red, White and Blue but a fielder’s choice caught Stewart crossing home before a fly out to right field sent the game into extra innings.
With the international tie-breaker (ITB) runner on second to start the eighth, Ricketts returned to pitch and despite Japan advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt, a groundout and strikeout brought the U.S. back to the plate.
Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) was placed at second and while back-to-back groundouts recorded the next two outs, Garcia singled to drive home Merritt and give Team USA the 4-3 win over Japan in walk-off fashion.
Team USA improves to 9-0 and now looks ahead toward the World Championship finale, which will take center stage tomorrow, August 12 at 7 pm JST following the bronze medal match at 2 pm JST.
The top nation will claim the first of five available softball spots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with Japan qualifying automatically as the host country.
The Women’s National Team program has claimed 10 World Championship titles, its most recent win having been at the 2016 WBSC World Championship held in Surrey, B.C., Canada.
Live stats will be available through USASoftball.com.
The softball flagship competition will feature 73 games across 10 days of competition. The top four finishers from each group will advance to the double page playoff round, while nations not advancing will compete in the placement round.
The World Championship finale will take center stage on August 12 at 7 pm JST following the bronze medal match at 2 p.m. JST. The top nation will claim the first of five available softball spots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with Japan qualifying automatically as the host country.