Team USA used three pitchers in its seven innings against Japan, but ultimately the result was still a 7-4 loss for the Americans at the World Cup of Softball on Saturday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. For the first time all weekend, Team USA allowed an opponent to score.
Team USA allowed Japan to score three runs in both the first and fourth innings, and a final score in the sixth put the game completely out of reach.
Even though Team USA was unable to overcome the deficit, coach Ken Eriksen was still pleased to see his team's resilience against one of the world's best pitchers.
“I'm pretty excited actually the way we responded tonight,” Eriksen said. “Our pitching was a little awry. Our pitching was very young tonight, in respect of the nature of how they approached the hitters and so forth. But the way our kids responded and obviously showed they were not overmatched.”
Just like the last time these two teams faced off, Japan would once again walk away with the win. In the 2012 International Softball Federation Women's World Championship, Japan would win a 2-1, 10-inning battle.
Aimee Creger of the University of Tulsa and Mustang High would step in the circle first for Team USA. Misato Kawano, Japan's leadoff batter, would break Team USA's two-game shutout streak with a home run to deep center field.
Yukiyo Mine and Misa Okubo would then single off Creger later on, and that's when Eriksen had Cheridan Hawkins step in. The decision to pull Creger seemed early, but Eriksen said the plan had long been in place for a situation like that.
“It was important to see how Creger, in a hometown crowd, could do against Japan, and then Cheridan matches up really well with the left-handed batters,” Eriksen said. “She got two pitches that got away from her, but what she did when she threw them better, she did very, very well.
“If you got the lefties coming up in that situation, and Creger had already given up a home run to a lefty, the match up shows me lefty, lefty. … The decision wasn't very difficult. Those decisions were made way in advance of coming out on the ball field … that's my job as a coach is to be prepared.”
When Hawkins came in, however, both Mine and Okubo would steal home plate after wild pitches by the Oregon pitcher. South Florida's Sara Nevins would come into the game in the fourth, but the ace of Thursday's game was unable to hold Japan either.
Eriksen cited immature pitching as a part of the problem in the team's loss.
“Anytime you get hits and four runs off the No. 1 pitcher in the world and move the ball as well as we did, I thought we played very, very well offensively,” Eriksen said. “I thought we did some great things defensively, but like I said, what you hope for is the maturation of the pitching, and that's a whole mental thing.”
Team USA never led, but it got close on several occasions. In the second inning, the team came within a score of Japan, after bringing in two runs between the two innings.
Amanda Chidester also gave the team and the crowd extra life when she sent a two-run home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the fifth. It appeared Yukiko Ueno was vulnerable in that inning, because Valerie Arioto came to the plate and sent a single right by Ueno.
Ueno and Japan would get out of the inning, however, by getting Taylor Thom to pop up.
Each of the three pitchers for Team USA allowed at least two hits and two runs to score. The team combined for only three strikeouts.
Ueno finished her complete game with eight hits, four runs, eight strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA.
Team USA plays Puerto Rico at noon Sunday.