Kazuhide Kudo tirelessly waved his Japanese flag as his home country defeated Team USA 6-3 in the World Cup of Softball championship game Sunday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Kudo, a Yamagata, Japan, native and Oklahoma City University student, couldn't miss the opportunity to see his team play.
And it didn't disappoint. Just like Kudo, the Japanese national team took few breaks after their second day, 2-1 loss to Canada, and defeated the Americans twice en route to their first World Cup of Softball championship,
Team USA, which had to come back to defeat Puerto Rico 10-3 earlier Sunday, allowed 12 hits in its loss to Japan.
“Even though we knew there would be a different pitcher, her strategy was the same ... put the bat on the ball and make something happen, both yesterday and today, and that's what she thinks they did very well,” Reika Utsugi said through an interpreter.
After allowing a run in the first inning, Team USA looked to keep things close in the second.
Japan had different plans, however. Yuka Ichiguchi sent a pop up to left field that Rhea Taylor tracked down on the line. But what looked like a sure out, slipped out of her glove and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Natsuko Ono and Nozomi Shimasaki had already started jogging when the ball was popped up, but they broke into a sprint when their third base coach signaled them head home. Ono and Shimasaki would put Japan up, 3-0.
“They create their own luck,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “You've got to tip your hat to them. They put the ball into play, and they don't try to do too much.
“Did you see any hard shots off the walls tonight? No you don't. But you know they put the ball in play, they find their holes, they're under control, and we got to find a way to exploit their off balance swings.”
Said Taylor of the pop up: “I had it in my glove, I just didn't have a tight enough squeeze on it, and it just fell out.”
During the play, Misato Kawano made a dash of her own, but to try and reach third base.
Raven Chavanne appeared to catch Kawano when she slid into the bag, but the third base umpire ruled Kawano safe.
Yuki Hayashi later drove a two-run single into deep right field to give Japan a 5-0 lead in the top of the second inning.
After hitting two home runs in the afternoon game against Puerto Rico, Amber Freeman did not suit up for Team USA's championship game.
She turned her right ankle when she was rounding first base, and instead of risking further injury was held out of the evening game.
Eriksen said when he saw Freeman stop on second base, he was two seconds away from stepping out to help her make it to home. That was until two members of the Puerto Rican national team jogged over to Freeman and helped her finish rounding the bases.
Eriksen said he nearly cried, and said that's the kind of image members of the International Olympic Committee should see when they decide if softball should return as an Olympic sport in 2020.
“I was fighting back tears over here,” Eriksen said. “That's just an incredible aspect of why these games need to be back in 2020. That's the sportsmanship we've always had, we've never failed a drug test in our sport. It's just played by a bunch of great representatives of every country. That might have been the highlight of my coaching career to tell you the truth. Watching something like that going on is like ‘Wow.'”
Freeman wasn't the only member of Team USA injured, however. OU's Lauren Chamberlain was also held out of the championship game, because she sustained a mild concussion sliding head first into second during Team USA's game against Puerto Rico.
When she hit her RBI double, she slid head first into the second baseman's knee. She will undergo an examination Monday.
“So there's no sense at all of even putting those guys back out there,” Eriksen said. “A couple days, 48 hours, every two hours, and we'll assess Lauren tomorrow when we get to Vancouver. We'll see how Freeman bounces back, hopefully she'll be ready to go by Wednesday.”
Lauren Gibson hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third, but the closest the Americans got to Japan was in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Valerie Arioto hit an RBI double into right field that brought in Amanda Chidester.
That would make the deficit to three scores, but Taylor Hoagland would pop up in the next at bat and that would end the game.
Team USA has a lot to look forward to for the rest of its summer, however. The team has only been together for a week and half, and its about to travel to Surrey, British Columbia, Canada to take part in the Canadian Open Fast Pitch International Championship.
With added practice and time together, the team expects a be great.
“I think we're going to end up being really successful,” Gibson said. “Our team is just so talented, we have so much strengths, and we're going to continue to improve from here on out. We've literally been practicing for like a week and half together, so I can't expect to beat one of the best, amazing teams. I mean I really wanted that, but I expect a lot out of this team, I think we're going to be great.”