USA repeated as Softball World Champions today in Chiba, Japan, after a memorable finale against the host team, in front of almost 12,000 fans at ZOZO Marine Stadium. The American team defeated Japan, 7-6, on a walkoff single by Kelsey Stewart in the tenth inning, and went undefeated on the tournament. USA also secured a berth in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
It was one the best softball games in the history of the World Championship. The best two teams in the world clashed in a classic battle, that will last forever in memory of thousands present at the stadium, and millions watching around the world.
Japan took the lead in the top of the second inning, with a 3-hit rally; Mana Atsumi led off with a hard grounder between short stop and third base that couldn’t be cotrnolled by Delaney Spaulding, for an infield hit. Then Yamato Fujita singled through the middle to put runners on first and second, with no outs. And one out later Haruka Agatsuma plated the first run of the game with a single to left field.
In the bottom of the second USA had the chance to score, but couldn’t find the clutch hit. Yukiko Ueno walked Delaney Spaulding and then hit Michelle Moultrie with a pitch to put two runners on. However, Kasey Copper hit a comebacker to pitcher to start the double play. Finally, the Japanese starter retired Kelsey Stewart on a fly ball to short stop for the third out.
Japan added one more run in the third frame, with an RBI triple off the bat of Yu Yamamoto. The third baseman came to the plate with two down and Saki Yamazaki on first, and hit a line drive to the right field corner to produce the second run for the host team.
In the bottom of the third USA again put two runners on, but this time they took advantage of the situation. Spaulding stepped to the plate with Haylie McCleney and Ali Aguilar on board, and she took advantage of a 3-2 pitch from Ueno to hit a lin-drive home run to the right field, to put USA in front of the score for the firs time in the game. These were the first three runs Ueno allowed in the tournament.
Pitcher Kelly Barnhill replaced Keilani Rickets for USA in the fourth inning, and retired the four batters she faced. But in the top of the fifth Coach Ken Eriksen pulled her from the game, bringing lefty Danielle O’Toole to face left-handed hitter Eri Yamada. But the veteran Japanese center field hit a single through the middle, and then O’Toole walked Yamazaki. Eriksen made another pitching change, and opted to send Rachel Garcia to face Yamamoto, on a righty-righty matchup. Yamamoto won the battle with a walk to load the bases, but then Atsumi stranded the three runners with a strike out.
In the top of the sixth inning Yamato Fujita electrified the crowd present at ZOZO Marine Stadium with a tying-game, solo home run to left field.
After a scoreless seventh inning, both teams started the eighth with runner on second base. For Japan, Hitomi Kawata sacrificed to move the runner to third base, and then pinch hitter Minori Naito just put the ball in play to second base to score the go-ahead run for Japan.
For USA, Valerie Arioto also bunted, and first baseman Natsuko Sugama tried to get Aguilar on third base, but the throw was not on time, leaving runners in the corners with nobody down. Ueno struck out Spaulding, but Michelle Moultrie tied the game again with an RBI single to right field. Still with runners on first and second and one out, Garcia fouled out to first base and Munro hit a grounder to second.
Monica Abbot got the ball for USA in the ninth and struck out Yamada to start the inning. Ichiguchi hit to second base and Aguilar made a barehanded play to retire the second out, but the runner advanced to third. Then Abbot pitched three consecutive balls to Yamazaki, and Eriksen decided to walk her intentionally, and also Yamamoto to load the bases. Finally, Atsumi hit a grounder to second base to end the inning scoreless for Japan.
To close the ninth, Kelsey Stewart failed to bunt, and with two strikes hit a grounder to short stop. Atsumi fielded it and assisted to second, but the runner went back on time. With runners on first and second, McCleney bunted in the air for the first out; Jeannie Takeda grounded to short stop and Aguilar fouled out to third base.
In the top of the tenth Japanese head coach Reika Utsugi decided not to bunt and give Fujita the green light to swing the ball. And the designated player made the stadium explode again with a two run homer to right center field -her second of the game-, giving her team a 2-run lead. Abbot made a mistake and Fujita, who war charged with the loss in yesterday’s nailbiter game, made her paid.
However, with one out in the bottom of the tenth Spaulding hit an RBI single to cut the difference, and Moultrie hit another single to right field to put runners on the corners. Then Munro hit a line-drive to left field for a ground-rule double to to tie the game again, and leave runners on second and third.
Then Stewart came to the box with the winning run on third, but Ueno put her quickly on two strikes with a drop ball and a swing and miss. The Japanese pitcher tried to finish her with an outside pitch, but Stewart connected an opposite field single down the third base line to clinch the World Championship for USA.
- Puerto Rico
- Chinese Taipei
- Great Britain
- New Zealand
- South Africa