TOKYO, Japan –– It was a battle of the top two defenses in the world as the sport of softball returned to its first Olympic Gold Medal game since 2008. In its fifth-consecutive Gold Medal contest, the U.S. Olympic Softball Team suffered a heartbreaking 2-0 loss to Team Japan to earn the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medal. In a game that featured multiple “flash of the leather” defensive moments, the U.S. defense worked its way out of five innings with Japanese runners in scoring position, while the Japan defense remained solid to keep the Eagles off the board.
Olympic veteran Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas) got the start in the circle for the U.S. while Ally Carda (Elk Grove, Calif.) and Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.), Team USA’s other Olympic Veteran, also contributed to the final Tokyo Olympic matchup. Highlighting the U.S. offense was Janie Reed (Placentia, Calif.) who tallied two of Team USA’s three hits with a triple and single.
“Today’s matchup was a typical USA versus Japan game,” said U.S. Olympic Softball Team Head Coach, Ken Eriksen. “It was tight all the way until the end. I think both teams played well and unfortunately tonight just wasn’t our night.”
“If you’re fan of softball in the United States, you have to be very, very proud of the team that went out and competed against Team Japan tonight," he added. "These athletes gave their all for their teammates and their country.”
Japan looked to get things started early with a leadoff single in the top of the first before a sac bunt and ground out advanced the runner to the third. With two outs and the go-ahead run 60 feet away, the U.S. defense remained unphased with a groundout to Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) to end the at-bat. In the bottom of the inning, Reed would blast a deep fly ball off the right field fence for a one-out triple before being called out at the plate on an attempt to steal home on a dropped third strike to Amanda Chidester (Allen Park, Mich.).
The Japan offense would put another runner on in the top of the second with a one-out double, but a fly out to Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) followed by a stellar catch from Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) at the right field wall would leave her stranded. Despite a one-out walk to Spaulding in the bottom of the frame, a nicely turned double play by the Japan defense would clear the bases and retire the U.S. offense. Carda entered the circle in the top of the third with a runner on first and quickly issued two ground outs before allowing another baserunner on with a hit-by-pitch. The U.S. defense once again proved superior though, this time with Aguilar making a diving play to leave the runners stranded.
Japan got on the board in the top of the fourth after piecing together a pair of singles and a walk to score their first run of the game. A leadoff single followed by a sac bunt and ground out would put a runner on third base with two outs before a walk would add a runner on first. A slow chopper to Aguilar would allow enough time for Mana Atsumi to beat out the grounder for a base hit RBI, giving Japan a one-run edge before Carda fired back with a strikeout to end the inning without any more damage.
Abbot took over pitching duties in the top of the fifth with two outs and a runner on first before a pitch off the glove of Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) allowed the runner to steal second. A line drive was then sent to right field to plate another run for Team Japan and extend their lead, 2-0. Remaining quiet through five innings, the Eagles managed to put a runner on in the bottom of the frame with a walk to Aguilar but would be sent back to defense after the next three batters were retired in order. A leadoff single was all the Japan offense was able to muster in the top of the sixth before two ground outs and a strikeout sent Team USA back to the plate.
Lighting a spark for the U.S. offense, Moultrie stepped up with a single to left field before Reed sent her second hit of the game up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out. In a play that will go down in the history books, Chidester sent a hard line drive off the arm of Yu Yamamoto and into the glove of shortstop Atsumi, who then tossed the ball to second for the double play, allowing Japan to escape the threat unscathed.
The Japan offense would come inches away from adding to their lead in the top of the seventh as Yamato Fujita sent a deep fly ball to what would have been a home run if it weren’t for the glove of Reed, who leaped in the air and reached over the fence for the save. Despite the momentum from the strong defensive inning, the U.S. offense remained stifled through its final at-bat of the game to surrender the 2-0 loss to Team Japan.
The Silver Medal win goes down as the U.S. Olympic Softball Team’s second in Olympic history after falling to Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.