The U.S. women's softball team celebrates during the gold-medal game at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 12, 2018 in Chiba, Japan.
After outscoring opponents 18-0 in its first two games of the Japan Cup, Team USA found itself in a tight contest against the hosts before pulling away late for a 9-4 victory Saturday in Takasaki City.
With the win, the U.S. clinched first place and thus will play for the gold medal on Sunday.
Tied 2-2 in the sixth, pinch hitter Taylor Edwards hit a ground-ball single to right that plated two runs. In a reasonably well-pitched game to that point for both teams, Japan’s Nana Okamura got the first two outs of the inning before hitting two batters and walking a third to load the bases for Edwards.
Japan came back with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning. But the U.S. broke the game open in the top of the 7th. After two U.S. runs had already come home, Kelsey Stewart’s bases-clearing double was the backbreaker, putting the game out of reach at 9-3.
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Team USA’s Kelly Kretschman, a two-time Olympic medalist, opened the scoring with a home run to center in the top of the first. Stewart added an RBI double in the second to stake a 2-0 lead. Japan rallied back with runs in the third and fourth innings to tie the game.
The game was a rematch of the final of this year’s world championship, which the U.S. won 7-6 in 10 innings, becoming the first U.S. team to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Softball makes its return to the Games for the first time since 2008.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.