Chiba, Japan — For USA Softball, August 12, 2018 will go down as the day when the Women’s National Team (WNT) not only defended their Gold Medal to become back-to-back World Champions, but also the day that Team USA earned a place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
With softball making its return to the Olympic Games in 2020, the Red, White and Blue will join Japan who automatically qualified as the host country, while additional qualifiers will determine the rest of the six-team field.
Team USA battled until the very end and proved to the world that resiliency pays off, as Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) hit a walk-off RBI single to drive home Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the U.S. a 7-6 victory of Japan. With the win, the U.S. claims its 11th title at the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) World Championship and finishes with an undefeated 10-0 record.
“It was another great game (against Japan),” said Head Coach Ken Eriksen in the postgame press conference. “If something comes out of this game besides the fact that we came back and won, it would be that it was against a true warrior in Yukiko Ueno. For her to go out and throw 17 stressful innings (including Japan’s earlier game against Canada) was amazing to watch if you’re a softball fan.”
“I was really proud of the way that our pitching staff bought into being utilized altogether and I’m also proud that our hitters are very resilient and kept fighting, and fighting, and fighting.”
Japan made the first move, striking first in the second inning after plating a run off a RBI single by Haruka Agatsuma. Team USA looked to answer back in the bottom half of the frame with a walk issued to Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and Moultrie taking first on a hit-by-pitch. After a double play put Spaulding on third, a walk to Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) resulted in runners on the corners for the U.S. while a fly out kept the score in Japan’s favor.
In the third inning, Japan’s Saki Yamazaki singled with two outs before crossing home on a RBI triple by Yu Yamamoto. Trailing 2-0, Team USA answered back in the bottom half with a two-out three-run shot by Spaulding to make it 3-2.
Kelly Barnhill (Marietta, Ga.) replaced Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) in the fourth inning who forced a three-up, three-down inning, while Japan’s Yukiko Ueno continued to do work and retire the U.S. side.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Danielle O’Toole (Upland, Calif.) entered the circle. Japan’s Eri Yamada singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt before a walk put two runners on. Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.) came in to pitch and despite a walk loading the bases, a strikeout ended the threat. Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) singled and Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) drew a two-out walk in the bottom half but the two were left stranded after a strikeout closed out the inning.
Japan’s Yamato Fujita made it a tie ballgame in the sixth after leading off with a home run over the centerfield fence, while a pair of strikeouts and pop out retired the U.S. side to signal the start of the seventh.
Both teams looked to close it out, but the seventh came up scoreless and forced the game into extra innings. With the international tie-breaker (ITB) rule in effect, a sacrifice bunt would move the runner to third before Japan’s Misato Kawano singled home Mana Atsumi to put Japan in the lead, 4-3. The fight and resiliency of Team USA continued to show after a fielder’s choice moved ITB runner Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) to third before the Red, White and Blue tied the game on a RBI single from Moultrie.
Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.) entered the game in relief to start the ninth, and despite loading the bases after a pair of two-out walks, a groundout to Arioto sent Team USA back to the plate. With ITB runner Sahvannah Jaquish (Highland, Calif.) on second, Stewart grounded into a fielder’s choice that put two runners on, but Japan retired the next three batters to force another inning of play.
Though Japan’s Yu Fujita would send a two-run shot past right field to give Japan a 6-4 lead, Team USA proved they had what it took to claim the victory. Starting at second, Aguilar quickly took third on a groundout before coming home on a RBI single from Spaulding. A single from Moultrie put runners on the corners while a ground-rule double from Munro scored the tying run. With the winning run on third, Stewart laced one down the third base line to bring home Moultrie and clinch the World Championship title for Team USA.
Team USA’s pitching staff of Abbott, Barnhill, Garcia, O’Toole and Ricketts performed in the circle, with Abbott earning the win after striking out two, walking two and allowing one hit in her two innings of work. McCleney, Moultrie and Spaulding led the offense with two hits apiece, with Spaulding collecting 4 RBI including her three-run home run.
Team USA will have some time off before returning to Japan for the Japan Cup, which will be held October 26-November 5. Follow along with Team USA all year long at USASoftball.com.
Info and photo provided by USA Softball