2021 in Review: Living-legends, future stars highlight international softball's return in 2021

2021 in Review: Living-legends, future stars highlight international softball's return in 2021
The WBSC U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup in Lima, Peru, was the first softball world championship played since the COVID-19 outbreak.

International softball returned in 2021 after a 17-month hiatus due to the COVID outbreak around the world. The two international softball events of the year were the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the WBSC U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup, both of them postponed from 2020.

Some of the biggest names in the history of softball faced off again in softball’s come back to the Olympic programme at Tokyo 2020, an event that also marked the return of international softball since the last WBSC softball tournament, the U-18 Men's Softball World Cup in February 2020. Veterans like Yukiko Ueno, Eri Yamada, Cat Osterman, Stacey Porter and Danielle Lawrie amazed the world with their skillset, determination and fair play, leading the way in an unforgettable Olympic softball event (that will be the matter of a specific Year in Review article in the next few days). 

However, 2021 also saw some of the softball stars of the future taking central stage. Japan's 20-year-old left handed pitcher Miu Goto joined Ueno in making a dynamic duo to pitch their nation to their second consecutive Olympic gold medal. 

Both hurlers also starred at the Japan Softball League (JSL). While Ueno led her Bic Camera Bee Queen to a third consecutive title, Goto wrapped up her 2021 season being named JSL Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Softball World Cups are back

Sports fans had to wait 21 months to watch a World Cup take place again on a softball diamond. The WBSC U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup in Lima, Peru in December was the first softball world championship played since the COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of 2020.

The WBSC U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup is the top international youth softball tournament in the world. With more than half of the Tokyo 2020 softball players having participated in this event, there's a very strong case to be able to say it's the beginning of many Olympic careers.

In a thrilling final, USA walked off Chinese Taipei in the bottom of the seventh inning to clinch their fourth consecutive women’s softball youth title. US right-hander Valerie Cagle had a monster afternoon pitching a seven-inning, 13-strikeout shutout and hit the World-Cup-winning RBI double in the bottom of the seventh, giving USA their fourth junior women’s softball world title in a row. She was named the MVP of the tournament.

“We had to fight really hard in this game and the whole tournament. We really had to play our best in order to beat our competition,” Cagle said after the World Championship Final. “It just gives us a really good building block. We have the experience here and we’re able to build confidence on what we’ve done here, so we can now take that for the next.”

For Kyla Holas, USA Softball Head Coach, it was a terrific softball week and a huge experience for all the players involved. “It’s so cool to show them what the rest of the world do, how we approach the game slightly different to be as successful as we can and come together and have such a great week of softball,” she said after the closing ceremony. “That’s something that’s just the most unique thing about international play, it’s just so fantastic for them to get a chance to see what everyone else brings when they play this game that they all love.”

For Chinese Taipei, it was their first ever final in the youth softball world championship, after a pair of bronze medals in 1999 and 2011. 

“We were really close to the championship. It was really only one more step. I think if the game would have gone into the extra inning, we would have the biggest chance to win,” said Yu-Chun Tsai, Chinese Taipei head coach. “It’s very important for us, because we’ve never been in the final before. We’ve won a pair of bronze medals before, but this is a record for us. I’m very happy for it.”

Chinese Taipei right-handed pitcher Hsia-Ai Ke made a big impact on the tournament, leading her team from the circle. She had the best record of the round robin, with three wins (against direct rivals Mexico, Puerto Rico and Czech Republic) and no losses, recording a 0.67 ERA. “She’s going to play in the Asian Games next year,” Tsai explained. "She has improved a lot and she will help Chinese Taipei to get better results in the future.”

The top defensive play of the tournament was a spectacular, game-saving diving catch from Puerto Rican center fielder Tattina Roman, in a 0-0 contest against USA.

“It was a really close game. We were going back and forth, 0-0 against USA, and there was a runner at third, so that would have changed the game,” Roman said after the game. “All I was thinking in my head was: ‘Catch the ball, don’t let it drop,’ so I did everything I could for my team to keep the ball in my glove.” 

After the tournament, Roman was named to the All-World Team of the tournament, as the centre fielder. She was joined by some of the stats leaders of the tournament, like Puerto Rican first baseman Kathyria Garcia (the best hitter of the tournament with a .563 average), Kuei-Ping Yeh from Chinese Taipei (leader with 11 RBI), US third baseman Erin Coffel (most runs scored) and Chi-Yun Lin (most home runs with two in 16 at bats).