In a matchup of two of the world’s top softball teams, world No. 1 Japan took a 2-1 win over the No. 2-ranked United States to claim the gold medal at the World Cup of Softball Sunday evening at Oklahoma City’s OGE Energy Field.
The championship game highlighted the only two nations to win Olympic softball gold. The United States had won three straight from 1996 to 2004 before Japan claimed the title at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the sport’s most recent appearance on the Olympic program.
The U.S. broke to the lead in the top of the first when Haylie McCleney reached on an error to lead off the game, then scored on a double to left by Kelsey Stewart. Japan answered in the bottom half when Yu Yamamoto worked a leadoff walk out of Jaclyn Traina. After a pair of pop-outs to third, Japan squeezed out a pair of infield singles, the second of which scored Yamamoto from second to tie the game at 1-1.
Japan’s starting pitcher, Yukari Hamamura, stifled the American offense, retiring 13 consecutive batters before Delaney Spaulding reached on a single with one out in the fifth inning. A stolen base and passed ball moved Spaulding to third, but Hamamura closed the door with back-to-back strikeouts to escape the situation.
Download the Team USA app today for breaking news, the latest Olympic roster, videos and more.
The bottom half of the fifth saw the Japanese take advantage of a leadoff single by Saki Yamazaki. Rira Yamashita followed with a one-out single and Misato Kawano was hit by a pitch from reliever Delanie Gourley to load the bases. Eri Yamada then lifted a sacrifice fly to center that scored pinch runner Hitomi Kawabata for a 2-1 lead.
Team USA threatened in the top of the seventh, working relief pitcher Yamato Fujita into a bases-loaded situation with only one out, but an infield pop-out by Aubree Munro and a strikeout by Janie Takeda forced the American side to settle for their third silver medal in 11 World Cups.
The United States has won eight of the prior 10 World Cup gold medals and takes its third silver medal in the event. Japan picks up its third World Cup gold medal after winning the inaugural tournament in 2005 and again in 2013, the last time Oklahoma City hosted the event before a two-year stint in Irvine, California.
Both teams now head to Surrey, British Columbia, for the WBSC XV Women’s World Softball Championship, scheduled for July 15-24. The United States has nine world titles to its credit, but has been runner-up to Japan in the past two editions of the biennial tournament.