Propelled by the timely power hitting of outfielders Michelle Moultrie and Haylie McCleney, the U.S. women’s softball team reclaimed the title of world champion with a 7-3 victory over Japan Sunday evening in the gold-medal game of the 2016 WBSC Women’s World Softball Championship in Surrey, British Columbia.
It was the second win by the Americans over Japan in 24 hours, having edged the world’s No. 1-ranked team 4-3 in Saturday evening’s semifinal game. That loss forced Japan into the bronze-medal game, where it defeated Canada earlier Sunday, 11-1, to earn the opportunity to defend its status as reigning two-time world champion in the final.
The pairing of the U.S., which opened the tournament ranked No. 2 in the world, and Japan in the championship game was a familiar one: The two teams have squared off with the title on the line in the last six world championship tournaments, a string dating back to 2002.
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The U.S. broke on top early, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning. Jazmyn Jackson sparked the American offensive with a two-out double, which was followed by a walk to Valerie Arioto. Jackson scored from second on Alison Aguilar’s single, then Moultrie cleared the bases with a three-run home run for a 4-0 lead.
Japan was able to pull one run back when Natsuko Sugama worked a lead-off walk out of starting U.S. pitcher Allyson Carda. Sugama advanced on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Misato Kawano, then scored on a single by Eri Yamada.
Both teams went scoreless over the next two innings, but the U.S. bats came alive again in the fourth inning. Delaney Spaulding led off with a single, but could not advance on a fly ball by Kasey Cooper for the first out. Aubree Munro moved Spaulding to second with a single, then McCleney launched a three-run homer to give the U.S. a 7-1 lead.
Japan’s Haruna Sakamoto touched U.S. reliever Jessica Moore for a home run to lead off the fourth and Misato Kawano went deep off of Jaclyn Traina in the fifth to make the score 7-3, but Traina was able to work out of a jam to close out the fifth. Japan generated only one more hit, a one-out single by Mana Atsumi in the sixth, as the U.S. pitching staff closed the door.
Moore picked up the win, her second of the tournament, allowing only one earned run on three hits while striking out two in her 2.2 innings of work. Japanese starter Yukari Hamamura took the loss, her first of the tournament against three wins.
With the win, the U.S. claims its 10th world championship, its first since 2010. The U.S. has played 14 of the 15 world championship finals, missing only the 1982 title game. The victory also avenges a loss to Japan in Oklahoma City two weeks earlier in the championship game of the World Cup of Softball, where Japan claimed its third World Cup crown with a 2-1 win.