FUKUSHIMA –– Despite taking an early lead in the opening game of the 2022 Japan All-Star Series, the world-ranked No. 1 USA Softball Women’s National Team (WNT) dropped a 2-1 decision to No. 2 Japan after a walk-off fielder’s choice allowed the Japanese to claim the first win of the three-game series. Another closely fought battle between the top-ranked teams, tonight’s matchup featured solid defense from both squads with the U.S. working its way out of four innings with Japanese runners on base while Japan pitcher, Mio Guto, limited the Team USA offense to five hits.
Tokyo Olympic silver medalist and 2022 World Games gold medalist Ally Carda got the start in the circle for the U.S. while Team USA rookies Kelly Maxwell, Kathryn Sandercock and Megan Faraimo each saw time in the circle through the final three innings of the game. Highlighting the U.S. offense was Grace Lyons who repped the Red, White and Blue for the first time tonight with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate followed by Kayla Kowalik, Kiki Milloy and Maya Brady with one hit apiece.
The Eagles scored its lone run of the game in the top of the second after Brady sent her first U.S. hit through the infield to lead off the inning before a fielder’s choice from Kinzie Hansen forced the out at second. Taking advantage of a wild pitch and a passed ball with some heads-up base running, Hansen stole back-to-back bases to put a runner on third with two outs before another passed ball allowed her to speed home to give the U.S. a 1-0 edge. Carda came out firing in the bottom of the second, issuing a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts and a line out to Lyons at shortstopto send Team USA back to offense.
Despite a pair of singles from Lyons and Kowalik to lead off the top of the third, the Eagles were unable to make anything happen as a strikeout, pop out and line out stranded the runners with U.S. lead holding steady, 1-0. Carda and the U.S. defense made quick work of the Japanese offense in the bottom of the frame thanks to a pair of ground outs and a diving catch from Lyons to retire the side in order and send the game to the fourth.
After going down in order, Team USA held on to its 1-0 lead until the bottom of the fourth inning when Nodoka Harada sent a solo home run out of the park to even the score, 1-1. Japan followed the long ball with a bunt single to put a runner on with no outs, but three-straight ground outs from Carda and Maxwell – who entered the circle with two outs – limited the damage to one run for the Japanese.
Both offenses were stifled through the fifth inning with the 4-6 duo of Lyons and Tiare Jennings flashing the leather for a clutch double play up the middle to send the game to the sixth. The Eagles looked to light a spark in the top of the inning after a leadoff single from Milloy and a sac-bunt from Jennings followed by a hit-by-pitch to Baylee Klingler put runners on first and second with oneout – but unable to overcome the pitching of Goto, the next two U.S. batters went down in order to strand the runners and send Team USA back to defense. Sandercock took over pitching duties in the bottom of the frame as the Japanese offense led off the inning with a single and sac-buntof its ownto put a runner on second with one out. Another single and a walk would quickly load the bases before Faraimo came in for relief with two big outs – a ground out and a strikeout – to retire the inning with the score still tied, 1-1.
Another single from Lyons is all the U.S. would manage in the top of the seventh before a leadoff triple for the Japanese offense threatened the game-winning run in the bottom of the inning. A pop out to Klingler would record the first out of the inning, but a fielder’s choice to Faramio wouldn’t make it home in time before the Japan runner slid in for the final run of the game, overcoming the U.S., 2-1.
Signifying as a one-year celebration of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the U.S. and Japan will return to Azuma Stadium tomorrow, Sunday, August 7 at 2 p.m. JST (12 a.m. CT) before capping the three-game series on Monday, August 8 at 7 p.m. JST (5 a.m. CT) at Yokohama Stadium – host of the Tokyo Olympic gold medal game. Returning to the Olympic softball venues of the 2020 Olympic Games – Azuma Stadium and Yokohama Stadium – the Japan All-Star Series has provided an exciting experience for fans since its inception in 2016 where over 31,000 fans packed the Tokyo Dome while 2017 saw 15,000 fans in the stands at Yokohama Stadium.
Live stats will be available during the remaining two games of the Japan All-Star Series, and fans at home can follow along with recaps and more at USASoftball.com.