Italy's Erika Piancastelli on qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympics: “My biggest softball memory so far”

Italy's Erika Piancastelli on qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympics: “My biggest softball memory so far”
The Modena-native catcher is the captain of the Italian National Softball Team that won the WBSC Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier on 27 July last year.

It’s the top of the seventh in the final game of the WBSC Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier between Italy and Great Britain, with an Olympic spot on the line. With two outs, British catcher Amy Moore steps on the plate and got two quick strikes on a rise-ball and a drop, both on the outside corner. Italian catcher Erika Piancastelli gives the signal to Greta Cecchetti. The pitcher nods, winds up and delivers another drop ball in the same spot.

Moore swings and misses, the ball drops from Piancastelli’s mitt, she grabs the ball and makes an easy throw to first base to complete out number 21. Italy, one year ago today, has officially qualified for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"Right now, my biggest softball memory has to be the Olympic Softball Qualifier,” Piancastelli said during an interview with Softball Europe. “That's probably the most amazing atmosphere to be in, the pressure that we felt, the team, the opponents that we had... The whole week of the qualifiers was a huge moment for me and I’ll never forget that.

"When Italy qualified for the Olympics I just remember feeling rushed. We trained for months before the [European Championship], just trying to be the best team we could be. And actually living the moment of being at the Qualifiers, and having my parents there, was just amazing. Once we won, I remember seeing my mom crying on the side, and I wanted to go and hug her. I think this is a special moment for both of us, and also knowing that I finally reached my goal, and I reached the dream that I always had to follow my mom's footsteps."

Piancastelli was born in Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy, on 20 June 1996 and grew up in a baseball-softball atmosphere. Her father, Pier Piancastelli, played professional baseball in Modena while her mother, Loredana Auletta, is an Olympian who played softball in Sydney 2000 representing Italy. Erika has some questions to make to her mother.

"Ever since the Qualifier, I've always made questions to my mum about the Olympics. What was it like when you were there, the whole experience, we talked a lot about it... just those little conversations where you're trying to understand what went them through so I can be prepared for when I go."

Her mother has always been a role model for the 24-year-old catcher.

"I always watched my mum playing, she was a big inspiration for me. Being in that atmosphere, being out there with other girls that have the same love for the game as you. Softball is such a fast-paced game, anything can happen, any team can beat any team, any single game is interesting. And I think that's what makes softball such a beautiful sport.

"When I was five years old we moved to the United States, and I started playing softball at seven, when we were already in California. But I do remember when I was younger in Italy and my mum was currently still playing in Forli, I was always at the field. So I already knew what softball was, but I never started playing it until we moved to America.”

"I use the same number as my mother on the National Team (20), but my number switched a lot during my career. Number 20 is a very special number for the whole family, but I switched as I grew up, depending on which number was available. Going into college number 20 was taken, so I decided to take 16, but any time I see number 20 available it's my first choice."

Wearing Italy's number 25, Erika played the 2015 WBSC Junior Women’s Softball World Championship in Oklahoma City, carrying a .370 batting average. Italy took 9th place. One year later, she wore the number nine blue jersey in the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Surrey, Canada. In 2018, she played her second flagship WBSC World Championship in Chiba, Japan, leading Italy to a 7th place finish while wearing the jersey number 20.

As one of the most feared hitters in Europe, Piancastelli has evolved herself into a role model for the next generations. To end the conversation, Erika had a message to all the young players dreaming about playing in the Olympics in the future.

"I think the most important thing is to just enjoy the game, falling in love with it, with the small parts of the game. Not just the whole game itself. I've noticed that the more I play, the more I fell in love with the little things: taking batting practice, hitting off a tee, getting grounders. Just little things that make you a better player. Especially during this time with COVID-19, having to stay indoors and away from the game, I think it has made everybody realise how important softball and baseball are to us, how much we do love the sport and how much it gets us. I think this break from the game is going to make us get back on the field with such a drive and I think it's super important to take this on and play like every game is your last one, because you never know what the future holds. Play to your best ability, give 100% effort every single day and really strive to be the best athlete every single day, not just when it's an important game or when you're going to a championship."