By Blythe Lawrence | Sept. 01, 2019, 11:07 a.m. (ET)

Haylie McCleney making a run against Japan at the 2019 Japan Cup on Sept. 1, 2019 in Takasaki City, Japan.

 

A three-run homer by Valerie Arioto that scored Ali Aguilar and Hailey McCleney in the top of the first inning scored all the runs the U.S. would get, but it was enough to give Team USA a 3-2 win in the championship game of the Japan Cup Saturday evening in Takasaki City, Japan.

The host nation gave a classic pitcher’s duel between Olympic medalist Monica Abbott and Nozomi Ozaki. Apart from Arioto’s homer in the first and Saki Yamazaki’s two-run shot in the bottom of the second that scored Yu Yumamoto, both pitchers stymied the opposing sides.

There was a sense of deja vu in the proceedings. The U.S. won the 2018 Japan Cup as well, with Abbott shutting down the host nation 4-0 in the title game.

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Abbott struck out four while scattering four hits, while Cat Osterman, who came on in relief in the sixth inning to be credited with the save, recorded three Ks of her own. Ozaki, who pitched six innings in her loss, nonetheless produced five strikeouts.

Coming off a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lima last month, a fit and rested U.S. roster put on a show of force from the beginning in Japan, making quick work of the Czech Republic and Chinese Taipei in Thursday’s opening rounds. Team USA needed only four innings to shut down the Czech Republic 13-0, and a six-inning, 8-0 win over Chinese Taipei followed.

That brought up host Japan, which the Americans beat 8-2 Friday to advance to the championship game on the strength of strong pitching from Ally Carda, Osterman and Rachel Garcia and 13 hits contributed by nearly everyone in the lineup. The host nation got another crack at the U.S. by beating Chinese Taipei to advance to the title game, where stiff resistance on the part of both pitchers led to the 3-2 final outcome.

Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.