Team Japan has done it again – this time in extra innings.
For the second year in a row, the Japanese women's fastpitch squad left Softball City as Women's International Division champions after defeating Team USA 9-6 Monday night in the title game of the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship.
This year's rematch of the 2011 final – which Japan won 7-0 after scoring six runs in the game's first three frames – was in stark contrast to last year's contest, as neither team managed to plate a run for the first four innings.
Japan broke the scoreless draw in the top of the fifth inning with a four-run outburst, which was keyed by four base hits – including a double by Eri Yamada that scored two runs – a U.S. fielding error, and a walk and a wild pitch from American pitcher Keilani Ricketts.
The four-run cushion didn't last long, however, as the U.S. team responded an inning later with four runs of its own.
After Stacey May-Johnson led off the inning with a single, she came across to score one batter later on a Kaitlin Cochran triple.
First baseman Valerie Arioto – who led the women's tournament in home runs and RBI – then reached base when she was hit by a pitch, and both her and Cochran scored three batters later when Lauren Gibson took Japan pitcher Yamato Fujita deep for a three-run home run.
With neither team scoring in the seventh inning, the title tilt headed to extra innings, and both teams' bats got hot again.
Japan scored five runs – all unearned – in the top of the eighth after three hits and a pair of U.S. errors, and the States responded in the bottom half of the inning, but it was not enough to force a ninth inning.
With May-Johnson on second base to start the inning – as per international tie-breaker rules – Samantha Fisher crushed a home run to make it 9-6. The States added another hit, and Japan made a fielding error, after the long ball, but it was not enough to bridge the three-run gap.
Relief pitcher Chelsea Thomas, who pitched the final inning and two-thirds for the U.S., was tagged with the loss, while Fujita pitched the full eight innings for Japan, striking out three.
In the bronze-medal contest earlier Monday, Canada – which was beset by defensive troubles on the weekend – lost 7-0 to Australia.
Again, Canada struggled in the field, making three errors, while managing just five hits against Aussie pitchers Justine Smethurst and Aimee Murch.
Madison Schreyer was stuck with the loss for Canada, pitching three-and-two-thirds innings, allowing three hits and five runs, but just one of the runs was earned.
Jocelyn Cater and Karissa Hovinga also saw time in the pitcher's circle for the home team.
Caitlin Lever – playing her first game of the tourney after joining the national team from her pro squad, the Carolina Diamonds – led the Canadian offence with a pair of hits.
Canada finished the tournament with a 4-4 record and now prepares for world championships, which begin Friday in Whitehorse.