By Sports Reporter Sunil Sunder Raj for The Every Day Fan Sports
Fresh off a dramatic walk-off 2-1 win over Australia, the USA Softball team returned to action facing undefeated Japan at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Japan remained unbeaten after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Canada in 8 innings.
Team USA Head Coach Ken Eriksen handed off the starting pitching assignment to Ally Carda.
In the top of the 1st inning, Japan had runners on the corner with two outs. Third baseman Yu Yamamoto up at the plate, Carda tossed a pitch that glanced off the glove of catcher Aubree Munro allowing Saki Yamazaki to score from third base.
Carda managed to settle down from that point on, striking out the side in the second inning. By the time the fourth inning rolled around, Carda had retired eight hitters in a row.
Team USA had a couple of opportunities with runners on base against Japan starting pitcher Yamato Fujita. However, a quick infield led to two stellar double plays.
In the top of the sixth, head coach Ken Eriksen called upon Cat Osterman to take over the pitching duties. Registering 13 strikeouts in two appearances, Osterman dominated once again, posting back-to-back strikeouts.
After yielding a two-out single to Yamato Fujita, Ally Carda re-entered the game and promptly fanned Yu Yamamoto.
Held hitless through five innings of play by Yamato Fujita, Team USA finally broke through with one out in the bottom half of the sixth inning. Centerfielder Haylie McCleney chopped a single past a diving third baseman Yu Yamamoto into left field. Left-fielder Janie Reed followed, reaching on an infield single. Right-fielder Amanda Chidester grounded into a force out that placed runners on the corner with two outs. First baseman Valerie Arioto delivered in the clutch by cranking an RBI single into left field.
After second baseman Ali Aguilar drew a free pass to load up the bases, shortstop Delaney Spaulding belted a deep fly ball to right field and appeared it might be on its way out, but right-fielder Yuka Ichiguchi made the catch just in front of the fence.
In the top of the seventh, head coach Ken Eriksen went to his other starting ace in Monica Abbott. Posting 25 strikeouts in three appearances on the mound, Abbott struck out first baseman Minori Naito to start the frame and ended up setting down the side in order.
Through the first four games of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan had slugged six home runs compared to none for Team USA. That stat would change drastically in the bottom half of the seventh. Leading off the inning, third baseman Kelsey Stewart socked the second pitch from Yamato Fujita over the right-field fence setting off a thunderous celebration at home plate.
Team USA (5-0) and Japan (4-1) will not have to wait long to face off for a second consecutive time. The stakes will be a lot higher, with a gold medal on the line on Tuesday, July 27th, the first pitch set for 7:00 a.m. EST and 8:00 p.m. Japan time at Yokohama Baseball Stadium.