By Karen Price | Aug. 11, 2018, 9:39 a.m. (ET)

Kelsey Stewart hits a home run at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 11, 2018 in Chiba, Japan


The U.S. softball team survived a scare against host country Japan at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship but prevailed in extra innings, 4-3, to move on to the gold-medal game in Chiba, Japan, on Saturday.

Team USA will now try to defend its world title and with it clinch a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sunday in the gold-medal game. Japan will need to beat Canada in the bronze-medal game in order to earn a rematch against the U.S.

The two teams battled into the eighth inning. With the score tied, 3-3, and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Kirsti Merritt (Florida ’16) scored from third on a line drive to center field by pitcher Rachel Garcia (UCLA ’20) for the victory. Both are competing at the world championship for the first time.

The U.S. remains undefeated at 9-0.

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Garcia, who came in to get the last out with runners on the corners in the top of the eighth, earned the win. Kelsey Stewart (Florida ’16) was three for three at the plate with a home run, and Aubree Munro (Florida ’16) also homered for the U.S.

This was the first meeting between the two rivals since the U.S. defeated Japan at the USA Softball International Cup, 10-5, on July 15. This game unfolded much differently than the display of offensive firepower in that contest, however.

Japan led from the top of the first inning when Yu Yamamoto hit a two-run home run off Monica Abbott (Tennessee ’07) with two outs on the board. It was just the second time in this tournament that the U.S. trailed an opponent. Japan made it 3-0 in the top of the third before Munro led off the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to left field for Team USA, and Stewart scored on a fielder’s choice to cut the lead to 3-2.

Stewart homered to tie the game in the fifth inning. Japan had runners in scoring position in both the sixth and seventh innings before moving to extra innings, where teams begin with a runner on second.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.