Team USA stays alive at Pan American Championship with pair of wins

Aug. 12, 2017, 11:47 p.m. (ET)

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — The USA Softball Women’s National Team (WNT) showed the world a glimpse of what it means to be an Eagle after posting a pair of victories in must-win games at the Pan American Championship.  The Americans faced the possibility of elimination for the first time in the history of the Pan American Championship, but the strength and relentless mentality of the team persevered as the Red, White and Blue stayed alive in the tournament.  In their first contest of the day, the U.S. shutout Puerto Rico behind a one-hit performance by Danielle O'Toole (Upland, Calif.), while an 8-2 win over Venezuela in their second game of the day pushed Team USA into the Bronze Medal Game.  With the wins, the U.S. has qualified for both the 2018 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Women’s World Championship, to be held in Chiba, Japan, and the 2019 Pan American Games, to be held in Lima, Peru.

“When you’re on the verge of elimination, maybe even elimination for the next four years, to come out and play like the team did in game one, the team played flawlessly,” said Head Coach Ken Eriksen.  “Danielle O’Toole answered the bell, she threw an incredible game.  We played great defense and had some great at-bats against a tough pitching staff in Puerto Rico.  I thought that after that game we kind of relaxed and got the monkey off our back and I thought we played well tonight we just hit the ball right at people.  You have to give the credit to Jess Moore coming in in the middle of an inning and shutting down a big inning for Venezuela and Kelly Barnhill coming in and shutting the door down in the end.  The way our lineup made a turn in the execution of the ball on the ground with sacrifice bunts and moving the runners and passing the bat, that’s fast pitch softball.  That’s what this team is built on.  If we can continue that tomorrow we have a pretty good chance to be at the top of the medal stand at the end of the day.”

Game One: USA 4, Puerto Rico 0

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O’Toole tossed a one-hit shutout as the United States secured a WBSC World Championship and Pan American Games berth with a 4-0 win over Puerto Rico.  O’Toole fanned four Puerto Rican batters in her near-complete game, tossing six and two-third innings before Kelly Barnhill (Marietta, Ga.) struck out the final out of the game.

The U.S. took the lead in the bottom of the second and never looked back.  Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) led off the at-bat by getting on base after Puerto Rico’s shortstop committed an error that allowed her to reach safely.  A sac bunt from Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) allowed Aguilar to advance to second, but the quick glove of the third baseman on a line drive from Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) kept Aguilar at second.  Janie Takeda (Placentia, Calif.) came up big with a fly ball single that dropped into left field to allow Aguilar to score and put the U.S. up 1-0.

O’Toole and the U.S. defense retired Puerto Rico in order in the top of the third to keep their one-run lead.  That lead would then be extended in the bottom of the frame after the hot hitting Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) singled to left field.  Back-to-back outs kept McCleney stranded at first, but a deep fly ball from Amanda Chidester (Allen Park, Mich.) allowed McCleney to score from first.  After two innings of play, USA led 2-0.

Both sides would get runners on base through the next two innings but failed to string together a rally until the U.S. would cross the plate in the bottom of the fifth to extend their lead to three runs.  Takeda led off with a single and moved to second base after a fielding error by the left fielder.  McCleney then beat out a beautifully placed bunt that landed right in front of the catcher.  With runners on the corners, Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) hit a sac fly to center field to make it 3-0, USA.

The last run of the game for the U.S. came in the bottom of the sixth when Aguilar absolutely crushed a ball over the center field fence for a solo home run.

Leading 4-0, the U.S. needed just three outs to stay alive.  O’Toole quickly recorded a strikeout and a groundout to Aguilar at second base, but a walk prompted a pitching change as Barnhill entered the circle.  Barnhill did her job, striking out the final batter of the game to hand the U.S. the win.

O’Toole got the ‘W’ in the circle, her second of the Pan American Championship, while McCleney was unstoppable at the plate, going a perfect 4-for-4 while scoring once.  Takeda also had a perfect outing at the plate, going 3-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored. 

Game Two: USA 8, Venezuela 2

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In a closely-fought contest, the United States came out on top of Venezuela after a six-run, sixth inning helped propel the U.S. to an 8-2 win.  The Red, White and Blue took an early lead, but after Venezuela tied up the ballgame in the top of the third the majority of the contest was neck-and-neck until Team USA broke the game open in the sixth.

Making her fourth start at the Pan American Championship, USA’s Ally Carda (Elk Grove, Calif.) was tested right out the gate by a scrappy Venezuela offense.  A leadoff hit batter put a runner on base before they advanced to second on a sac bunt.  A fly ball to Jazmyn Jackson (San Jose, Calif.) in right field would keep the runner at second before a single to left field put runners on the corners.  Carda came up with a huge strikeout to leave the runners stranded.

The U.S. took the lead in the bottom of the first after taking advantage of the speedy Stewart, who tripled with a deep fly ball to right field.  Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) then hit a chopper up the middle to plate Stewart and make it an early 1-0, U.S. ballgame. 

Team USA added to that lead in the bottom of the second after Jackson singled with one out and moved to second on a walk to Hannah Flippen (San Diego, Calif.).  Takeda then drove a single up the middle to plate Jackson, giving the U.S. a two-run lead.

The game got interesting in the top of the third inning after Venezuela tied up the ballgame.  After a back-to-back walks, a single to right field plated a run for Venezuela, cutting Team USA’s lead to 2-1.  This prompted a pitching change as Jessica Moore (Sutter, Calif.) entered in relief for Carda, and Moore promptly issued an intentional walk to load the bases for Venezuela.  A groundout to Arioto at first base kept the U.S. lead, but a passed ball on a third strike swinging allowed the runner at third base to score to tie up the game.

Both sides would be hitless until the top of the fifth inning when Venezuela hit back-to-back singles to load the bases after a one out walk.  Moore and the U.S. defense held strong, as she snagged a line drive up the middle and fired it over to Stewart at third base for a double play and squashed the Venezuela rally.  Team USA would look to score in the bottom of the frame after back-to-back singles from Takeda and McCleney, but a pair of fly outs and a groundout kept the U.S. from capitalizing. 

Barnhill would enter the circle in the top of the sixth after Moore issued a walk with one out.  Barnhill again did her job, fanning the next two batters.

Needing to spark a rally, the Red, White and Blue did just that in a six-run outing in the bottom of the sixth.  Arioto started the charge with a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a perfectly executed bunt single by Aguilar.  Jackson followed with a sac bunt that was misplayed by the Venezuela third baseman to load the bases.  With no outs, Spaulding entered as a pinch hitter and delivered a single to left field to plate two and give the U.S. a 4-2 lead.  After Takeda advanced the runners on base with a sac bunt, Team USA’s bats stayed relentless as they tacked on another four runs to their lead.  McCleney knocked in a run with an infield single and Stewart brought home a run with a double to left field.  With Stewart on second, Moultrie singled on a line drive to the right fielder, who misplayed the ball which allowed Moultrie to scoot around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

Leading 8-2, Barnhill retired Venezuela in order in their final at-bat with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to Stewart at third base.  Barnhill earned the win for the U.S., her second of the Pan American Championship after fanning four and allowing no hits in her one and two-third innings in the circle.  Carda finished the game with two strikeouts, three hits, two walks and one earned run in her two innings of work while Moore struck out five, walked three and allowed two hits in three and one-third innings.

At the plate, Spaulding and Moultrie each picked up two RBI, while four U.S. batters had a multi-hit game: McCleney, Stewart, Moultrie and Takeda. 

Team USA will now face Canada at 1:30 p.m. ET for the Bronze Medal Game with the winner advancing to the Gold Medal finale the Pan American Championship.  Fans can watch Team USA throughout the tournament with live streaming through InternetTV for an $11.95 (USD) subscription.  Live stats will also be available for fans to follow along through

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