A crowd of 20,331 fans were treated to a classic USA vs Japan matchup at the Tokyo Dome for the series finale of the Japan All-Star Series.
While Team USA captured the most recent extra-inning thrillers at last year’s World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, it was Japan who would walk away with a 1-0 (eight inning) win tonight.
With the game scoreless through regulation play, the winning run crossed the plate on an executed squeeze bunt in the bottom of the eighth.
“Typical USA vs Japan game,” said WNT Head Coach Ken Eriksen (Tampa, Fla.) on tonight’s contest. “Our pitching staff did a heck of a job today, especially when you go against a team in their home country with over 20,000 fans in the stands. So really proud of our pitchers tonight.”
Pitching and defense were the name of the game tonight as only five hits were dispersed between the two teams.
For Japan, Yamamoto Fujita had a strong showing in the circle while Team USA utilized a deep pitching staff.
Starting right from the gate was U.S. starter Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.), who set the tone early by issuing two strikeouts in the top of the first while the getting Japan to ground out for the third out of the at-bat.
Coming back to the circle after Team USA was retired in order in the top of the second, a one-out single and intentional walk sandwiched a groundout to put two on with two outs.
The Red, White and Blue defense held steady and a perfectly placed Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) at third base fielded a ground ball to tag her base for the third out.
The U.S. looked to score in the top of the third as the Women’s National Team (WNT) loaded the bases with one out. A leadoff walk to Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) and two singles had speed on the base paths, but a sharply hit ground ball resulted in a double play to quash the rally and keep the game scoreless.
Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) entered for Abbott in the bottom of the fourth for a three-up, three-down inning and Ally Carda (Elk Grove, Calif.) entered in the bottom of the fifth.
A leadoff single for Japan put the first base runner on in two innings, but a fly ball and sac bunt recorded the next two outs with the runner only advancing to second. Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas), then entered the game and made a statement, striking out her first batter faced on three-consecutive strikes to keep it tied up at 0-0.
Another pair of runners got on base for the U.S. in the top of the sixth inning after Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) reached on an error and moved to second on a walk to Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.), but the runners stayed put with a strikeout to bring Japan back to the plate.
Japan nearly mimicked the U.S. at-bat, putting two on base with a pair of walks, but Osterman and the defense continued to shine with a strikeout and 6-to-5 play to get the runner out at third on a ground ball.
After both sides failed to produce a run in the seventh, the game went into extra-innings.
Starting off on second base for Team USA as the international tie-breaker (ITB) runner was Stewart, who safely advanced on a dropped throw to third base after Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) laid down a sac bunt.
With runners on the corners with no outs, a sharply hit ground ball resulted in the first out of the at-bat, keeping Stewart at third but allowed McCleney to reach second to put two runners in scoring position. Another walk to Arioto loaded the bases, fueling a rally for Team USA, but a strikeout and a fly ball prevented the U.S. from capitalizing.
Japan’s ITB runner reached third safely on a softly hit ground out and a squeeze bunt by the next batter allowed the runner to score from third, sealing a 1-0 win for Japan.
Osterman suffered the loss despite a strong showing in the circle as the southpaw fanned four batters with just one hit allowed in two and two-third innings of work.
Abbott fanned three with one hit through the first three innings while Ricketts and Carda kept Japan off the scoreboard in the heart of the game.
At the plate, Team USA left nine runners on base with Arioto and Munro each reaching twice via the walk.
While the world has to wait 394 days to watch another USA vs Japan matchup in the Tokyo-metro, tonight showcased what many expect to be a passionate crowd for softball’s return to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“You saw the passion for the game tonight with the crowd. You saw that passion last year at the World Championship with the crowds."
"For us, it’s all about getting that experience in an environment like this. How often are softball teams playing in front of 20,000-plus fans? It’s helping us build to what we’re going to see next year in Tokyo, so to play in this type of atmosphere is nothing but a positive.”
Team USA will return to action at the USA Softball International Cup, which will be held July 1-7 in Columbus, Ga. at South Commons Softball Complex.
The site of the 1996 Olympic Games for softball, where the sport made it’s Olympic debut, a complete game schedule, ticket information and live streaming/ESPN schedule can be found at USASoftballInternationalCup.com.