Less than two weeks after falling to archrival Japan in the World Cup championship game, the U.S. women’s softball team advanced to the gold-medal game of the 2016 Women’s World Softball Championship by defeating the Japanese 4-3 Saturday evening in Surrey, British Columbia.
The win advanced the U.S. directly to Sunday evening’s gold-medal game, while Japan must face home-standing Canada on Sunday to determine which will face the United States later that day for the world title.
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Japan took an early lead in the second inning when leadoff batter Mana Atsumi battled U.S. pitcher Allyson Carda, fouling off four straight pitches in an eight-pitch at-bat that ended with a solo home run to give her team a 1-0 lead.
The Americans answered with two runs in the top of the third. After Haylie McCleney popped out to open the inning, the U.S. chased Japanese starter Yukari Hamamura by loading the bases on back-to-back singles by Kelsey Stewart and Jazmyn Jackson and a walk to Valerie Arioto. Reliever Yamato Fujita hit the first batter she faced, Amanda Chidester, to force across Stewart with the tying run. After Michelle Moultrie flied to right field for the second out, Delaney Spaulding picked up a single to score Jackson and put the U.S. on top, 2-1.
Japan drew level at 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Team USA’s fielding errors on two consecutive plays allowed Yuka Ichiguchi to score an unearned run, but the Americans responded with another two-run inning in the top of the fifth. Arioto and Alison Aguilar opened the stanza with back-to-back doubles to put the U.S. up 3-2, then Aguilar plated the eventual winning run on a two-out single by Kasey Cooper.
Atsumi closed out the scoring in the bottom of the sixth, reaching base on a one-out double, then advancing to score on singles by Ichiguchi and Natsuko Sugama.
Carda picked up her second win of the tournament, going 6.2 innings and allowing only five hits and two earned runs while recording five strikeouts and three walks. Undefeated in their seven games in Surrey, the Americans have outscored their opponents 76-7.
Sunday evening’s final will mark the 14th time the United States has played in the championship game in the 15 times it has been held. The U.S. and Japan have met with the gold medal on the line at the past five world championships. Japan has won the last two titles in 2012 and 2014 after breaking an American string of seven consecutive gold medals spanning from 1986 through 2010.