BIRMINGHAM, Ala. –– Behind a perfect day at the plate from Haylie McCleney and a combined 11 strikeout performance from the pitching staff of Ally Carda and Montana Fouts, the world-ranked No. 1 U.S. Women’s National Team (WNT) clinched its spot in tomorrow’s highly anticipated gold medal game with a 5-0 shutout over No. 8 Australia. Tonight’s win marks Team USA’s fourth-straight victory and third shutout of the tournament while limiting its opponents to a low of two runs through three days of competition.
The U.S. offense took advantage of five hits in the win with three coming off the bat of McCleney followed by one hit apiece from Hannah Flippen and Bubba Nickles. In the circle, Carda set the tone early with six strikeouts through five innings before Fouts sealed the shutout with five-straight strikeouts and a ground out through the last two innings of the game.
Working to find the zone in the top of the first inning, Carda issued a leadoff walk to start the game but quickly fired back with a strikeout and a ground out to put two outs on the board before two more walks loaded the bases. Remaining calm under pressure, the veteran pitcher zoned in on the next batter with a big strikeout to escape the inning with no damage done. Getting things rolling for the U.S. in the bottom of the frame, leadoff batter McCleney sent a hard ground ball through the left side to give Team USA its first base runner of the night before a ground out and pop out brought Flippen to the plate with two away. Executing a quality at-bat with a hard line drive up the middle, Flippen sent the first U.S. run across the plate to give the Red, White and Blue an early one-run edge.
Both offenses were stifled through the second and third innings before the Eagles extended its lead in the bottom of the fourth. A one-out walk to Taylor Pleasants would start the rally for the U.S. followed by a single from Nickles and another walk to Janae Jefferson to load the bases. With the stage perfectly set, McCleney delivered a clutch line drive double down the right field line to clear the bases and tack on three runs for Team USA. A ground out and a two-out walk to Charla Echols would put runners on the corners for the U.S. before a strategic delayed steal from Echols allowed McCleney to speed home to put the Eagles on top, 5-0.
Settled in and taking control in the circle, Carda retired the Australia offense in order in the top of the fifth to maintain the five-run lead for the Red, White and Blue. Despite a pair of walks in the bottom of the inning, the U.S. offense was unable to muster any runs before being sent back to defense. Taking over pitching duties in the top of the sixth, Fouts quickly found her groove with three-straights strikeouts – giving déjà vu of her entrance in Monday’s contest against Italy.
Another scoreless inning from Team USA in the bottom of the sixth would send them back to the field for the final three outs of the game, which came in 1-2-3 fashion with two more strikeouts from Fouts and a ground out to Jefferson to seal the 5-0 win.
Tonight’s win advanced the Red, White and Blue to the 2022 World Games gold medal game tomorrow at 8pm CT for a highly anticipated contest against world-ranked No. 2 Japan. Signifying as the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) World Championship, Team USA will look to defend its gold medal finish at the 2018 WBSC World Championship in Chiba, Japan where the U.S. earned a qualifying spot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a 7-6 walk-off win over Japan. Fans can tune in to tomorrow’s gold medal contest on CBS Sports Network with live stats available on USASoftball.com.