San Juan, Puerto Rico --- The USA Softball Women's National Team proved itself with a 5-1, come from behind win over Cuba at the Pan American Games Qualifier the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) of America and USA Softball announced today. Down 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, heavy rainfall suspended the game for eight hours before play was resumed. With the win, USA moves to 3-0 in pool play, and will face Colombia at 12:30 p.m. EST tomorrow morning.
“The focus and composure these ladies had today was phenomenal,” said head coach Ken Eriksen. “We were able to do the little things when we needed to and got clutch hits and performances. As a coach, I couldn't be more proud of our team.”
For the first time at the Pan Am Qualifier, Cuba put a run on the board before the U.S. as Cheridan Hawkins (Anderson, Calif.) issued two back-to-back singles with one out. With runners on first and second, Cuba hit into a fielder's choice to get the runner out at third, but the next batter hit a single to right field to score the runner from second and put Cuba up 1-0.
The U.S bats were silent in the first inning, as Yilliam Torres retired the side in order with a groundout and two strikeouts. Both sides struggled offensively throughout the next two innings as Cuba's lineup was retired in order in the second and third and the U.S. got runners on base in both innings with a walk but were unable to score.
In the top of the fourth inning, the rain started falling, resulting in what appeared to be a minor rain delay. Just as field crews began to take the tarps off the field, another round of storms forced the tarps to be brought back onto the field and officials determined that play would not resume until later in the evening.
Seven hours later, both teams returned to action with Cuba up to bat with one runner on base and two strikes on the batter. Sara Nevins (Pineallas Park, Fla.) entered the circle for the Red, White and Blue and, despite a hit-by-pitch, was able to retire Cuba with a popup, a ground out and a strikeout to bring USA back to the plate.
To start the bottom of the fourth, Lauren Gibson (Pasadena, Md.) led things off with USA's first hit of the game and advanced to third base via two passed balls. The hitting proved to be contagious as Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) hit a double to score Gibson and collected her seventh RBI of the Pan Am Qualifier. With Arioto on second, Lauren Chamberlain (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.) hit a single to right field, scoring Arioto and putting the U.S. up 2-1.
Nevins continued to keep the momentum in USA's favor as she struck out the next three batters in the top of the fifth. The U.S. kept their bats going in the bottom of the fifth as Amanda Chidester (Allen Park, Mich.) hit a two-out single to start another rally. Rhea Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) entered the game as a pinch runner for Chidester and stole second base to put a runner in scoring position for Arioto, who then connected for her second hit and RBI of the game.
Another flawless performance by the U.S. defense and Nevins from the circle in the top of the sixth and the U.S. entered the bottom half of the inning leading 3-1. Taylor Hoagland (Flower Mound, Texas) led off with a single and was followed with a Lindsey Ziegenhirt (Elk Grove, Calif.) walk. Both runners were advanced after Kourtney Salvarola (Arnold, Md.) laid down a sac-bunt and Hoagland scored on a sac-hit by Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) Raven Chavanne (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) then brought Ziegenhirt home with a single, giving the Red, White and Blue a 5-1 lead.
Needing just three outs, Team USA did just that as a groundout to Chavanne and two strikeouts ended the game with the U.S. coming away with the 5-1 win.
“We came back after the rain delay and really wanted to have our energy up,” said Arioto. “Lauren Gibson did a great job of starting us off with a hit and that's really what we wanted to do after the delay: just come out and be relentless. It was a huge game for us to come from behind. We kept going at them and we made them work.”
Arioto led the way for the U.S., going 2-for-3 with two RBI. From the circle, Hawkins finished the game with three strikeouts, four hits and one run issued through three innings of work. Nevins got the save, pitching the final four innings with six strikeouts and no hits allowed.
Up next for the U.S. is a 12:30 p.m. EST matchup against Colombia. Live stats and online streaming (pay-per-view) will be available throughout the Pan American Games Qualifier and links can be found at USASoftball.com.