Despite taking an early lead in their 2019 international season opener, the USA Softball Women's National Team (WNT) dropped a 6-4 decision to Japan in game one of the Japan All-Star Series.
Nearly going hit-for-hit against Japan, walks and back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning proved to be difficult to overcome for the Red, White and Blue.
“I thought we had some pretty good offensive approaches at the plate today,” said WNT Head Coach, Ken Eriksen (Tampa, Fla.).
“It was good to see us jump out early, but we have to square some things away on the other side of the ball. Our pitchers have to pound the plate a little bit more and go at batters. By and large, we’re getting better considering we’ve only been on the field together eight days and we’re playing against teams that have been together for six months. So, a lot of bright spots but still some work to do.”
The U.S. offense got rolling early in the game as leadoff batter Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) singled up the middle. McCleney would stay at first after a strikeout to the next batter before advancing to second on a walk to Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.), but a snagged line drive up the middle resulted in a double play to end the at-bat.
Japan also threatened early in the bottom of the frame after three walks were issued, but the U.S. defense held steady and got out of the jam unscathed.
Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) led off the second inning by getting hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a grounder back to the pitcher. Tagging up on a fly ball to the right fielder, Spaulding was able to reach third with two outs before a walk to Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) put runners on the corners. An RBI single up the middle by Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) quickly gave the Americans an early 1-0 lead.
Team USA tacked on another two runs to their lead in the top of the third inning courtesy of a Spaulding two-run shot, but that lead would be erased in the bottom half of the inning.
A leadoff walk and single put two on for Japan, prompting a pitching change as Ally Carda (Elk Grove, Calif.) replaced U.S. starter Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.). A walk to the next batter loaded the bases, but Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) fired a ground ball from second to Munro at home for the first out of the inning and a strikeout kept all runners at bay.
However, Japan tied the game on a wild pitch and a Yuka Ichiguchi two-RBI single.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, a pair of home runs proved costly for the Red, White and Blue. With two outs, a two-run home run by Yu Yamamoto followed by a solo shot by Sayaki Mori put Japan up by three runs after four complete innings.
Janie Reed (Placentia, Calif.) led off the fifth inning with a single, moved to second on another walk to Arioto and a single by Aguilar loaded the bases for Team USA with no outs. After a caught line drive recorded the first out of the inning, Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) hit a chopper to the third baseman, giving Reed plenty of time to score the fourth run of the game for the U.S. and bring them within two runs.
A leadoff double by Japan in the bottom of the fifth would be the last hit of the game as both sides’ lineups were retired in order, locking up the 6-4 win for Japan.
Carda suffered the loss for Team USA, issuing one strikeout, two walks and four earned runs in her two innings of work in the circle. Ricketts struck out one batter with five walks and two earned runs in four innings.
At the plate, Spaulding picked up two RBI and scored twice while Arioto reached base three times via the walk.
Both teams will return to action for the second game of the series on June 23 at 1 p.m. local time (11 p.m. CT on June 22) at Shellcom Sendai. Live stats will be available during the USA vs Japan All-Star Series, and fans at home can follow along with recaps and more at USASoftball.com.