LIMA, Peru – Four years ago before a home crowd in Toronto, Canada defeated the U.S. 4-2 in extra innings to win the gold medal. In the semifinals at the Pan American Games Lima 2019, the rivals to the north once again emerged victorious, squeaking out a 3-2 victory at Villa Maria del Triunfo. But the U.S. wasn’t finished with Canada just yet.
On Saturday morning, the veteran U.S. squad defeated Puerto Rico 3-1 in the bronze medal match to earn the right to play Canada for the second time in as many days. In the afternoon, the U.S. flipped the script from yesterday and emerged with a 3-1 victory and the gold medal.
The gold is the ninth for the U.S. in Pan Am Games history and the fifth to result from a gold-medal victory over Canada.
Monica Abbott had two complete-game victories, allowing totals of two earned runs and seven hits in 14 innings, with 21 strikeouts and no walks. Against Canada, she surrendered only one run on four hits with 10 strikeouts. Right fielder Michelle Moultrie went 2-for-3 with a home run and two runs batted in, including the tie-breaking single to drive in pinch runner Kirsti Merritt in the bottom of the sixth inning. Abbott then pitched around two singles in the top of the seventh and struck out Janet Leung to secure the victory. The U.S. has now won 99 of 104 games all time at the Pan Am Games.
“It’s great to win gold for USA,” Moultrie said. “That’s always our goal. So, we were just really excited.”
“She’s ‘Ms. Sunday,’” head coach Ken Eriksen said of Moultrie. “Or ‘Ms. Gold Medal Game.’ She’s phenomenal. A guy that’s been with us since 2011, her and Valerie Arioto, a lot of experience. You got to have experience in the lineup in gold medal games, and it proved well worth it today.”
The U.S. broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the second when Moultrie launched a solo home run over the left field wall for a 1-0 lead. The ball nearly cleared the home run distance required in men’s softball, hitting just below the top of the fence. The towering shot was the 11th U.S. home run of the Pan Am Games, five more than any other team.
“I was just going up with our game plan to always just go out swinging,” Moultrie said of the homer. “So I got a good pitch. So, splat.”
Canada struck back in the top of the fourth in the same fashion. First baseman Holly Speers sent an inside fastball directly over the center field wall to tie the score 1-1. U.S. center fielder Haylie McCleney made a valiant attempt to rob Speers of the homer, but the ball veered just over her outstretched glove. Until the homer, Abbott had not allowed a baserunner.
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The U.S defense helped Abbott escaped a scare in the top of the fifth inning to keep the score tied. After Erika Polidori singled and stole second, Abbott hit Larissa Franklin with a pitch, putting runners on first and second. Janet Leung then sent a ball into short center field. McCleney dove head first and caught the fly ball for the second out. Joanne Lye then sent a fastball speeding toward second baseman Alison Aguilar. But Aguilar snared it and smartly tagged Franklin for the third out to end the inning. The U.S. committed just two errors in the tournament.
The U.S. finally broke Canada’s tough pitchers in the bottom of the sixth. Arioto and Delaney Spalding began the inning with back-to-back singles, bringing up the streaking Moultrie. Moultrie provided the U.S. with its third consecutive single to bring Merritt across the plate for a 2-1 lead. Later, a Kelsey Stewart single and a throwing error from Leung allowed Spaulding to score the third and final run of the game.
But Canada did not go down without a fight. Jennifer Salling started the seventh with a single. After Abbott struck out Polidori, catcher Kaleigh Rafter sent a ball skyward to center field. The crowd gasped at the hit. But Rafter’s ball fell just short of the fence and into McCleney’s glove for the second out. Franklin then singled to put more pressure on the U.S., but the veteran Abbott remained calm and recorded her tenth and final strikeout to end the game.
“It feels good to come out – obviously we lost yesterday, and we had our eyes wide open,” Abbott said. “We knew we had to come out and take care of the game versus Puerto Rico, which we knew was going to be a tough game, and then come back and try to beat Canada which gave us a tough time yesterday.”
Abbott finished the Pan American Games Lima 2019 with a 4-0 record, a 1.00 ERA and 48 strikeouts, more than any other pitcher.
“She’s such a phenomenal athlete,” Eriksen said of Abbott. “She trains harder than anybody I’ve ever seen except Lisa Fernandez. So she was in physical shape to do what she could do today...I thought she did a real nice job today, her and (catcher) Aubree Munro, mixing speeds, mixing spots today. So [starting her in both games] was a no-brainer, honestly.”