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For the third year in a row, Japan left Softball City as champions of the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship’s top division.
But unlike the last two title games – in which Japan, also the current world champs, rolled to victory with relative ease – this year’s affair was much, much closer.
Monday night, Japan needed extra innings to edge Australia 2-0 for first place in the tournament’s women’s international division.
The game was a pitchers’ duel in the truest sense of the phrase, as Japan’s Yukiko Ueno – largely considered the top pitcher in the world – and Australian hurlers Vanessa Stokes and Kaia Parnaby kept hitters from both sides at bay.
Ueno allowed just two hits over seven scoreless inning, while striking out 10 Aussie batters, and Stokes and Parnaby – who each pitched four innings – combined to scatter seven hits.
After playing to a 0-0 draw in regular time, Japan won the game in the eighth when Misa Okubo – who started the inning on second base due to international tie-breaker rules – moved to third base on a fielder’s choice, and scored one batter later when Rie Nagayoshi reached base on an error.
Nagayoshi later scored on a single by Yuka Ichiguchi to give Japan a 2-0 which was enough to escape with the win.
Japan earned a spot in Monday’s final after a 5-0 victory over the U.S. Sunday. Australia’s path to the final began Sunday with a 6-4 win over Canada – knocking the host country to fourth-place – and the Aussies then won do-or-die game Monday against the U.S., a short time before having to play Japan in the final.
The Australia/U.S. contest also took extra innings to solve, with the Aussies emerging victorious, 2-1 in eight innings.