BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With over 8,000 fans packed in the Hoover Met Stadium, the USA Softball Women’s National Team (WNT) proved victorious at the 2022 World Games after a closely-fought Olympic rematch against No. 2 Japan resulted in a narrow 3-2 win for the Red, White and Blue. An international rivalry spanning decades, Team USA’s win over Japan marks its third-straight World Championship title following its gold medal finishes at the 2016 and 2018 WBSC World Championships.
The U.S. defense shined in tonight’s win, working its way out of three intense innings with Japanese runners in scoring position while allowing a low of two runs to cross home plate despite Japan’s combined eight hits. The veteran pitching staff of Monica Abbott and Ally Carda dominated the circle in the win with a combined 10 strikeouts to keep Japan at bay in the tight defensive battle while a three-run double from Janae Jefferson gave the Eagles the edge it needed to pull off the 3-2 gold medal win.
Japan managed two baserunners in the top of the first inning via a fielding miscue and a walk to start off the gold medal matchup but starting pitcher Monica Abbott buckled down with two runners on as a strikeout ended the at-bat. Leading off for the Eagles in the bottom of the frame, Haylie McCleney drove a line drive single to left field before a slick double play by the Japan infield cleared the bases followed by an infield ground out for the third out of the inning.
Threatening an early lead in the top of the second, the Japanese offense managed to load the bases after stringing together a one-out single, two bunts and a walk but the two-time Olympic medalist pitcher remained calm under pressure to force a ground out to Hannah Flippen at shortstop to end the at-bat with no damage done. Looking to spark a rally in the bottom of the second, Charla Echols sent a hard ground ball through the right side to get things going for the U.S. followed by a walk to Bubba Nickles and a single from Dejah Mulipola to load the bases with no outs. Putting up a fight against the U.S. offense, Japan buckled down to record two quick outs via a fielder’s choice and a strikeout to bring Jefferson to the plate for a bases loaded, two outs situation. Digging in at the plate, the University of Texas four-time All-American came in clutch with a game-changing, bases-clearing double to give Team USA a 3-0 lead heading into the third.
Answering back with two singles in the top of the frame, Japan scored its first run of the contest on a ground ball to center field to cut the U.S. lead, 3-1. A hit-by-pitch followed by another single loaded the bases yet again, but Abbott refocused to force a groundout for the third out of the inning. The score remained steady at 3-1 through the fourth inning before a leadoff double sparked the Japan offense in the top of the fifth. With no outs and a runner on second, Carda took over pitching duties for the Eagles before another base hit from the Japanese pushed a run across to narrow the U.S. lead, 3-2. Settling in with a few deep breaths, Carda shut down the next three batters she faced with two strikeouts and a nicely fielded bunt to end the at-bat.
A 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth retired Team USA in order while a leadoff walk put a runner on for Japan in the top of the sixth. Fired up in the circle, Carda zoned in to fan three-straight batters and strand the runner at first to send the U.S. back to the plate. Another quick inning kept the Red, White and Blue off the basepaths in the bottom of the frame as the game headed to the seventh with the U.S. up by one. Continuing to dominate with confidence, Carda tallied two more strikeouts before recording the final out of the game herself via a pop fly in the circle to seal the 3-2, gold medal victory for Team USA.
The Red, White and Blue put on a strong showing throughout the World Games with a .331 team batting average as Mulipola led the squad hitting .615 followed by McCleney at .533 and Kinzie Hansen with a .417 average. The Eagles plated a total of 31 runs in its campaign to the gold medal while the U.S. pitching staff of Abbott, Carda, Megan Faraimo, Jailyn Ford and Montana Fouts allowed a low of only four runs through five games. Adding to the total of 54 strikeouts, Carda led the staff with 19 K’s followed by Abbott with 17 and Fouts with 13. Racking up a total of five RBI, four runs scored, eight hits and two doubles in front of her hometown crowd, McCleney proved to be a key contributor enroute to the 2022 World Championship title while being named the 2022 World Games Softball Tournament MVP.