Ali Aguilar steps up to bat at the USA Softball International Cup on July 6, 2019 in Columbus, Ga.
The U.S. softball team struck back on home turf Sunday.
After falling to Japan in the Japan All-Star Series last month in Tokyo, the U.S. came back to defeat its rival 2-1 in the championship game of the USA Softball International Cup in Columbus, Georgia.
U.S. pitcher and 2008 Olympian Monica Abbott jumped up in celebration as the win was finished off with a ground-out in the seventh inning, giving the U.S. a repeat title in the International Cup and its first major tournament win of the 2019 season.
The tournament also marked the first time the U.S. national team has played in Columbus since the 1996 Olympic tournament was held there.
The U.S. and Japan are longtime rivals and expected to be the two favorites when the sport returns to the Olympic Games next summer in Tokyo.
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Both teams came into Sunday’s gold-medal matchup with identical 8-1 records. Team USA’s only loss in the tournament came to Japan by a 3-2 score on Friday.
The championship game was predictably close.
A home run by Yu Yamamoto in the second inning gave Japan a 1-0 lead, but the U.S. answered by scoring a pair of runs in the sixth inning. Delaney Spaulding drove in the tying run, and then Michelle Moultrie scored the deciding run by tagging up on a foul fly ball hit to left field by Haylie McCleney. Moultrie scored safely, but the run would have counted regardless because the Japan catcher was called for obstruction as she blocked Moultrie’s path to the plate.
Once the U.S. pulled ahead on that run, Abbott came on as the third pitcher of the game for the U.S. and finished off the game with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Two-time Olympian Cat Osterman, Ally Carda and Abbott combined for a two-hitter.
Joining the U.S. in a podium finish was the U.S. U-19 team, which won a medal in the tournament for the first time by defeating Scrap Yard Fast Pitch, a Texas team, 8-0 in the bronze-medal game.
The next major tournament for the U.S. is the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.