| Japan players run onto the field to celebrate their world championship victory over Team USA. (Photo by Justin Kennedy)
JAPAN DOWNS USA FOR WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GOLD
WHITEHORSE, YUKON (CANADA) -- It was one for the ages. The gold medal final at the International Softball Federation XIII Women’s World Championship went ten innings before a winner was crowned, as both the USA and Japan put forth unbelievable defensive efforts.
Japanese pitching star Yukiko Ueno went all ten innings, allowing just three hits and striking out eight, as they edged the USA, 2-1.
Japan had won the gold medal at the last Olympic softball competition (2008 in Beijing) with a victory over the defending Games champion Americans, and earlier this month had also beaten the U.S. in the title game at the annual Canadian Open International Fastpitch Championship, which is an ISF-sanctioned event. Team USA had come into the 16-nation world championship as the defending champions after having won the gold medals at the twelfth edition two years ago in Venezuela.
The Americans had great pitching of their own in the title game in Whitehorse, with Keilani Ricketts, who threw over nine innings, as well as Jackie Traina and Chelsea Thomas who came on for short stints. The three allowed just five hits combined and Ricketts struck out ten.
Defense was the name of the game for the first seven innings in terms of the infield and outfield as well. One catch in particular had the crowd on their feet. USA center fielder Michelle Moultrie saved a sure three-run shot from escaping the park with a diving catch over the fence.
That kept the game scoreless, and that’s the way it remained through regulation. Despite the international tiebreaker rule that places a runner on second base at the start of each half-inning (beginning with the top of the eighth), neither side could get anything going to start extra innings, but in the ninth both teams finally got on the board.
Japan started things off when Misato Kawano scored on a single from Maki Furuta. Christi Orgeron responded for the USA in the bottom of the inning, crossing the plate on a single from Lauren Gibson. It was 1-1 after nine.
In the top of the tenth Haruna Sakamoto scored on a sacrifice bunt from Misa Okubo. The Americans then subbed Traina in for Ricketts. Traina gave up a single and struck out one before being replaced by Thomas. She only lasted one batter before Ricketts was back in to close out the inning.
The USA couldn’t even things up in the bottom of the tenth, handing Japan their second ISF Women’s World Championship title.
An archive of the game webcast – as well as all 65 of the other games throughout the tournament – is available online here.
ISF President Don Porter, in London lobbying with baseball for a return to the Olympics, sent his congratulations to the Japanese team and the Japan Softball Association president.
Japan had gotten to the gold medal final by blanking Australia, 2-0, earlier in the day. Ueno pitched a complete game (seven innings) then as well, allowing five hits and striking out nine. Japan scored right out of the gate when Kawano sent Eri Yamada home on an RBI single in the top of the first inning.
They added another in the fifth when Furuta smacked a single to score Rei Nishiyama to secure the two-run lead. Kaia Parnaby, Vanessa Stokes, and Zara Mee shared the pitching circle for Australia.
The Aussies return home with bronze medals for the fourth time in ISF Women’s World Championship history.
All three teams were ushered onto the field for the Closing Ceremony, which featured the trophy and medal presentations, guest speakers such as Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, and the passing of the ISF flag to the next women’s world championship host city – Haarlem, Netherlands (2014).
The Snowbirds also made a special appearance. The Canadian Air Forces demo crew did two fly-bys prior to the gold medal final, as well as a surprise encore halfway through the game, much to the delight of the crowd.
It was a fitting ending to a fantastic ten days of softball in Whitehorse, the pinnacle of which was the last day’s final – a game that should go down as a classic battle.
For Ueno, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. A gold medal wrapped around her neck on her 30th birthday.
Contributed by Echo Ross in Whitehorse