USA Red capped off a perfect tournament with a 10-5 win over Japan in the championship game of the USA Softball International Cup on Sunday in Irvine, California.
Team USA had won the event, which was formerly known as the World Cup of Softball, from 2005-2012 and 2014-15 with Japan taking the title in 2005, 2013 and 2016-17.
USA Red was undefeated and the top seed in Pool A coming into the championship game.
Valerie Arioto was 3-for-3 at bat with three home runs and five RBIs while scoring four runs, Michelle Moultrie was 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs and Ali Aguilar was 2-for-3 and hit one home run.
The U.S. next heads to the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan, the winner of which will qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. If Japan wins, the silver medalist will claim the Olympic spot as Japan is guaranteed a host country quota.
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USA Red jumped out to an early lead in the first inning. With two outs, pitcher Yukari Hamamura walked three batters in a row and Michelle Moultrie’s infield single drove in the first run. Arioto scored on an error and the U.S. loaded the bases one more time before Japan got the final out of the inning.
Japan cut the lead to one in the top of the second but the U.S. scored a pair in the bottom of the third on a home run by Arioto and another solo shot by Delaney Spaulding with two outs to give the U.S. a 4-1 lead.
USA Red changed pitchers with Rachel Garcia coming in for Danielle O’Toole with two runners in scoring position and one out in the top of the fourth. Garcia got the first out but Japan scored two on a single to right field, and after another single put two on, the U.S. made another pitching change, bringing in Keilani Ricketts. The final out came at first and Japan left the pair on trailing 4-3.
Aguilar padded the lead with USA Red’s third home run of the game to make it 5-3.
2008 Olympic silver medalist Monica Abbott replaced Ricketts on the mound with one out in the top of the fifth. Hoping to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the USA Softball International Cup marked Abbott’s first tournament with the national team since the 2010 world championships.
The 32-year-old had zero hits against her this week heading into the championship game, including a 16-strikeout game against Puerto Rico Friday.
That would change when Japan’s Saki Yamazaki scored a home run, with Yu Yamamoto advancing from third.
The U.S. answered with two more home runs, one from Arioto and another from Moultrie, then padded the lead in the sixth with Arioto’s third home run of the game, this one driving in runs from Kelsey Stewart and Kirsti Merritt, to make it 10-5 with one inning remaining.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.