USA Softball Upset by Japan at the World Championships
Beijing, China---In a battle of undefeated teams, Japan upset the USA, 3-1, to advance to the gold medal game at the ISF Women’s World Championship. The loss is the first for the USA in a World Championship since 1998 when it lost, 2-1, to Australia in 12 innings in the second round of the playoffs. The U.S. will now have to win two games on Tuesday if they are to capture their sixth consecutive World title.
Looking for a quick start against Japan ace Yukiko Ueno, USA’s Caitlin Lowe (Tustin, Calif.) led off with a single to left field and Natasha Watley (Irvine, Calif.) walked to begin an early rally. With one out, Crystl Bustos (Canyon Country, Calif.) hit a deep fly ball that looked to be over the head of the leftfielder but Satoko Mabuchi made a great catch to shut down the rally.
Japan got their first baserunner of the game in the bottom of the third when U.S. starter Jennie Finch (La Mirada, Calif.) hit Sachiko Ito to lead off the inning. On the next play U.S. third baseman Andrea Duran (Salem, Calif.) turned an attempted sacrifice bunt by Masumi Mishina into a double play to clear the bases.
Ueno seemed to be in a groove as she retired Bustos, Nuveman and Duran in order in the top of the fourth inning to bring her team back to the plate.
The bottom of the fourth inning started the same way as the third with Finch hitting the lead off batter. This time Japan chose to swing away rather than use the sacrifice bunt and it worked as shortstop Emi Naito singled through the left side to move Aki Venishi to second base.
With two runners on base Japan went back to the sacrifice as Eri Yamada executed a perfect bunt to move both runners into scoring position. A groundout by Mabuchi broke a scoreless tie as Venishi scampered home for the first run of the game. With two outs Japan kept the pressure on as Sachiko Ito singled to left field to score Naito for a 2-0 lead. The U.S. was unable to respond in the top of the fifth inning as Ueno retired the side to keep the momentum in favor of Japan.
In the bottom of the fifth inning the U.S. went to the bullpen in favor of Jamie Southern (Clovis, Calif.) who had success against Japan during the 2005 Japan Cup. This time around Japan was better prepared and came out swinging. Megu Hirose led off the inning with a double to center field and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Emi Inui. A single by Ayumi Karino added an insurance run as Hirose scored for a 3-0 lead.
Down to their last six outs, the U.S. bats came alive in the fifth to cut the lead to 3-1. Lowe reached on an error by Naito to lead off the inning and scored on a two out double by Bustos. With momentum swinging in favor of the U.S., Nuveman laced a single to center field that looked to score Bustos but a perfect throw from center fielder Hirose nailed her at the plate to end the inning.
Finch was saddled with the loss to drop to 1-1 at these championships after allowing two runs on two hits. She also hit two batters and struck out two. Southern allowed a run on two hits in three innings of relief work. Ueno improved to 4-0 after holding the U.S. to just one unearned run on three hits while fanning seven.
“We had some opportunities early in the game that we didn’t cash in on. In the first inning, if that ball of Bustos would have cleared left field it could have been a different scenario,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “Right now we have to bounce back strong tomorrow and be ready to play. This thing will be won tomorrow not today.”
The Red, White and Blue will meet Australia (7-3) for the bronze medal game Tues. at 2:00 am CT, with the loser taking bronze. The winner of that game will face Japan (9-0) at 6:00 am CT for the Championship game.
*The loss to Japan ends a 20 game win streak in ISF World Championship competition for the United States. Their last loss came in the second round of the playoffs to Australia (2-1) at the 1998 ISF World Championships. The team went on to capture the Championship with a 1-0 win over Australia.
*Entering the game Yukiko Ueno had allowed only one unearned run in 22.3 innings of work at the 2006 ISF World Championship.
*The USA is now 104-10 in World Championship competition since 1965.
*Yukiko Ueno has now defeated the USA a total of four times in the last 14 months. (Once at the 2005 World Cup, twice at the Japan Cup and at the 2006 World Championship.)