Amanda Chidester celebrates after Valerie Arioto's three-run home run against Mexico.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — Two days after nearly being eliminated from the Pan American Championship, the USA Softball Women’s National Team (WNT) proved why they are the reigning World Champions after dominating the final day in a pair of run-rule victories to earn the Gold. Almost 14 years ago to the day on the very same field, future Olympic Gold Medalist Cat Osterman threw a perfect game as the United States defeated Canada at the 2003 Pan American Games and today Kelly Barnhill (Marietta, Ga.) nearly accomplished the same feat with a complete game, no-hitter over Mexico in the Gold Medal Game. The U.S. defeated Canada 11-3 (five innings) to advance to the Gold Medal Game for a rematch with Mexico, who’s extra-inning win over the U.S. in the first round of playoffs sent the Americans to the loser’s bracket to battle their way back. Team USA did just that, and in commanding fashion, shutting out Mexico 9-0 (five innings) to hold the Pan American Championship trophy in the air.
“Unbelievable,” said Head Coach Ken Eriksen. “I think it’s the first time in double-page system that a team has lost the first game and then won four-in-a-row to win the tournament. We needed a wakeup call. I don’t know if anyone realized that we were at the brink of elimination over the course of the next four years because of the way the system is setup. This team took it upon themselves and they got in a groove. We had really good pitching and defense yesterday to carry through and it made the hitters more comfortable. Michelle Moultrie, Amanda Chidester, Valerie Arioto and Jess Moore did an incredible job in leadership. I was here the last time Team USA won a Gold Medal on this field when Cat Osterman pitched a perfect game and Kelly Barnhill almost matched her today. History repeats itself here in Santo Domingo.”
Barnhill got the start in the circle for the U.S., and came out on fire as she retired the first three batters faced with a pair of strikeouts. Mexico would return the favor in the bottom of the frame as a groundout, pop up and fly ball to keep the game scoreless.
The sole baserunner for Mexico would get on base in the top of the second after a batter was hit by a pitch with one out, but Barnhill came back with two strikeouts to quickly squash any attempt by Mexico’s offense for a rally.
The U.S. bats came alive in the bottom of the second in a nine-run outing at the plate. Amanda Chidester (Allen Park, Mich.) led off the at-bat with a single and advanced to second on a sac bunt from Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.). With Chidester in scoring position, Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) absolutely crushed the ball over the centerfield fence to plate the first two runs of the game. Back-to-back singles from Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) then put two on with one out.
This prompted a pitching change for Mexico, but the scoring didn’t stop there as Team USA’s bats remained relentless. Janie Takeda (Placentia, Calif.) sent a first-pitch, three-run home run over the centerfield fence to extend Team USA’s lead to five runs. The U.S. continued to pounce offensively after Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) reached on a fielding error by Mexico and moved to third on a single from Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) with two outs. Another single from Chidester plated Stewart and put runners on the corners. On a 3-1 pitch, Arioto hit a no-doubter, sending the ball flying well over the left field fence for the third home run of the inning. A walk looked to continue the rally for the Americans, but a groundout ended the inning with Team USA boasting a 9-0 lead.
The next three innings of play would be scoreless, but the damage had already been done as the U.S. earned the 9-0 (five innings), shutout, run-rule victory. At the plate, Arioto and Takeda each picked up three RBI in the win, while Aguilar collected two. Barnhill absolutely dominated in the circle, fanning 10 batters while allowing zero hits in her five innings of work.
“I was really excited going in to today,” said Barnhill. “For us to win Gold on this field like so many of the Olympians before us is amazing. It’s something that I’ve been dreaming of, to be like those Olympic pitchers, and to be on that path that they were once on is really special because we’re all on the same path in the end.”
Earlier in the day, the U.S. defeated Canada 11-3 (five innings) in the Bronze Medal Game after bouncing back from a three-run deficit after the first inning. Moultrie shined at the plate for Team USA, going 3-for-4, including a three-run home run which put the U.S. up in the top of the fourth inning.
Each U.S. batter had a hit in the win over Canada, while Jessica Moore (Sutter, Calif.) earned the win after entering in relief in the top of the first inning. Moore tossed four and one-third scoreless innings with one strikeout, two hits and one walk. Danielle O’Toole (Upland, Calif.) got the start in the circle for the U.S. while Barnhill tossed the final out of the game.
With their backs against the wall, the United States accomplished what no other team has been able to do in the history of the event.
Valerie Arioto shakes hands with Assistant Coach John Rittman after her three-run home run against Mexico.
“It would have been so easy to just fall apart after that loss,” said Arioto. “It just shows our closeness and how we believe in each other and each person’s heart. We did it as a unit. That loss could have really set us back, and we said ‘No way, we’re fighting.’ We fought every single pitch. It wasn’t every single game, it was every single pitch. The world saw our heart there, we just laid it out and played some good softball.”
As a team, the U.S. hit an astounding .436 with 19 home runs and 102 RBI in 12 games played. Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) paced the offense, hitting .613 (19-for-31) as the leadoff batter with one home run, five RBI and 17 runs scored. Arioto picked up 18 RBI while hitting .357 (10-for-28) and amassing a .857 slugging percentage. From the circle, the U.S. staff combined for a 1.40 ERA. Moore was a perfect 4-0 with 16 strikeouts and a 0.68 ERA in 20.2 innings in the circle. Barnhill went 3-0 while fanning 40 batters with a 0.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched.
Up next for Team USA is the Japan Cup, which will be held August 25-27 in Takasaki City, Japan. It will be a battle of the top-four ranked teams in the world as No. 1 Japan, No. 2 USA, No. 3 Canada and No. 4 Australia are all slated to compete.
Fans can follow along with the USA Softball National Team programs all year long at USASoftball.com.
About USA Softball
USA Softball is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit organization headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., and is designated as the National Governing Body (NGB) of Softball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. One of the nation’s largest sports organizations, USA Softball sanctions competition in every state through a network of 70 local associations and has grown from a few hundred teams in the early days to over 150,000 teams today, representing a membership of more than 2 million. USA Softball is dedicated to providing people of all ages the opportunity to play the game they love at a variety of levels by offering recreational, league, tournament and competitive play for fast pitch, slow pitch and modified pitch. USA Softball annually conducts thousands of tournaments throughout the country including over 100 National Championships. The USA Softball umpire program is among the nation’s largest and are widely known as the best trained umpires in the game.
As the NGB for the sport of softball, USA Softball is responsible for training, equipping and promoting the six USA Softball National Teams that compete in events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games, World Championships and other international and domestic events. For more information on USA Softball, including its founding and history as the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), please visit, www.USASoftball.com.