By Sports Reporter Sunil Sunder Raj for The Every Day Fan Sports
Reeling off back-to-back walk victories, including a thrilling 2-1 win over Japan (5-1) on a 7th inning home run off the bat of Kelsey Stewart, the USA Softball (5-1) team returned to action on Tuesday, facing Japan for the Gold Medal at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Team USA looked to recapture the gold medal after falling to Japan in the 2008 Olympic Games.
Team USA earned the right to be the home team with the victory over Japan on Sunday. In the bottom half of the first inning, left-fielder Janie Reed smashed a one-out triple to deep centerfield. With Amanda Chidester up at the plate, Chidester swung at strike three, but the ball deflected off catcher Haruka Atsumi and rolled behind home plate.
Sprinting towards home plate Reed was tagged out on a perfect toss from Atsumi to starting pitcher Yukiko Ueno.
Cat Osterman started for Team USA; Osterman was dominant on the mound in the tournament posting a 2-0 record, allowing two hits, walking one, and fanning 15 hitters in 12 2/3 innings.
With two outs in the top of the second inning, the defense behind Osterman prevented Japan from tallying the first run of the game. Yuka Ichiguchi clobbered a fly ball to deep right field, with Michelle Moultrie making a spectacular catch in front of the fence.
With one in the top of the third inning, Ally Carda took over the pitching duties. Facing second baseman Mana Atsumi with runners on first and second with two outs, Carda managed to escape unscathed by retiring Yu Yamamoto on a ground ball hit to second baseman Ali Aguilar.
Japan kept up the pressure in the fourth inning, designated player Yamato Fujita leading off with a single then moving over to second base on a sac bunt and eventually third base on a ground out. After second baseman Yuka Ichiguchi drew a walk, Mana Atsumi hit a slow roller in the infield with Atsumi beating the throw from Aguilar to first baseman Valerie Arioto as Fujita crossed home plate for the first run of the game.
Team USA had trouble getting anything going against Yukiko Ueno. At one point, Ueno retiring seven hitters in a row.
Japan’s infield turned a sparkling double play to end the second inning.
Ally Carda appeared headed for a spotless fifth inning, setting down the first two hitters. However, Yu Yamamoto belted a single to center field. Head Coach Ken Eriksen called upon Monica Abbott to pitch.
In five appearances on the hill in the 2020 Olympics, Abbott absolutely lights-out registering a 3-0 record, whiffing 29 while recording two saves. With Yamato Fujita up at the plate, Abbott uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Yu Yamamoto to advance to second base.
Once again, Japan capitalized on two-out clutch hitting as Fujita roped a single into right field, with Yamamoto easily sliding in safely at home plate.
Team USA had another golden opportunity to tie up the game in the bottom sixth inning. Michelle Moultrie led off with a single, followed by Janie Reed cranking a single to centerfield off new pitcher Miu Goto.
The craziest sequence of the game occurred next, with Amanda Chidester up at the plate. Chidester laced a line drive that glanced off the glove of the third baseman Yu Yamamoto to shortstop Mana Atsumi, who threw a strike to second baseman Yuka Ichiguchi for the inning-ending double play.
In the top of the seventh, Abbott yielded a one-out single to Nodoka Harada. Abbott rebounded to strike out Hitomi Kawabata and appeared headed for a spotless inning until Yamato Fujita cranked a fly ball to the left ball that kept carrying. Janie Reed drifting backward came up with the highlight reel catch leaping up against the fence.
With one last opportunity to get on the scoreboard in the bottom seventh, USA Softball went quietly as Miu Goto sets down the side in order, including Delaney Spaulding on a pop-up behind home plate to catcher Haruka Agatsuma. That set off an emotional celebration amongst the Japan players and coaching staff in the infield.