In the end, after 10 days of competition, Canada’s high-octane pitching duo simply ran out of gas.
But despite a lopsided 11-1 loss to the two-time world champions from Japan on Sunday afternoon, Team Canada still had plenty to cheer about after winning bronze – matching the country’s best-ever finish at a world softball championship; the team also placed third in 2010 in Venezuela. At the last two world championships – Whitehorse in 2012 and the Netherlands in 2014 – Canada placed fourth.
“We’ve now demonstrated very clearly over the last eight years that we’re among the top four countries in the world and have moved a step closer to the (gold-medal) game,” said head coach Mark Smith.
“With the youth of our kids, the way they’re playing the game and the experience they’re gaining, it’s all good news.”
The news wasn’t as good Sunday against Japan, however, as the Japanese squad slammed four home runs en route to the victory, which propelled them into Sunday night’s final against Team USA, which the Americans won 7-3.
Japanese hitters were able to take advantage of Canada’s pitching staff, which – led by veteran Lauren Bay Regula and 21-year-old South Surrey native Sara Groenewegen – had been dominant for much of the week.
Canada had relied almost solely on the pair throughout the week, especially after No. 3 pitcher Karissa Hovinga left the tournament Friday to attend her sister’s wedding in Nebraska.
“We just ran out of pitching,” said Smith. “Wagon’s tank was empty.”
After an initial 6-1 loss to Venezuela on July 18 in the first game of the championship round-robin, Canada rattled off five straight wins, including do-or-die victories against China, Mexico and the Netherlands, largely on the strength of Bay Regula and Groenewegen.
Against China Friday afternoon, Bay Regula got the start, striking out two and allowing two runs through three innings, before Groewenegen took over, striking out eight in four frames.
On Saturday, Groenewegen – the University of Minnesota’s top pitcher and a White Rock Renegades alum – tossed a gem against upstart Mexico, throwing a complete-game shutout. She then tossed an inning of relief later in the day, in the team’s 9-2 win over Netherlands.
Against Japan, Groenewegen’s rise ball and screwball “didn’t have the jump that it had, the changeup wasn’t quite biting like it needed to,” said Smith.
“Against lesser teams you can get away with that, but not against the Japanese.
“We knew with Lauren we were going to get three or four quality innings out of her per outing. And then Hovinga had to leave. We spent a lot of pitches to get to this point.
“And everybody knows how good (Japan) are. They capitalize on your mistakes.”
Groenewegen admitted Sunday that it had been a long week of pitching, but didn’t use it as an excuse for the semifinal loss.
“We didn’t score more than one run… we can play way better. Japan came to play and we didn’t.”
Canada’s run came in the second inning when North Delta’s Jen Yee singled and later scored from third base on a passed ball.
“You obviously don’t want to have your last game at world championships be like that,” said veteran shortstop Jenn Salling. “We had some hits, had plenty of runners on base. The hitting was never really a problem.
“Our pitchers threw so well for us all week, between Lauren and (Groenewegen). At some point you run out of gas a little bit. Like (Bay Regula) hasn’t thrown in eight years and she threw everyday here the last three days.”
In the championship tilt Sunday evening, the U.S. – in front of 4,500 fans at Softball City – defeated Japan to reclaim the world title, having lost to them in the 2012 and ‘14 championship game.
Prior to Japan’s titles, the U.S. squad had won seven straight world championships.
American outfielders Haylie McCleney and Michelle Moultrie each hit three-run homers to pace the U.S. attack, while four pitchers combined to shut down the Japanese hitters.
The next world championships are planned for Japan in 2018, with softball also expected back in the Olympics for Tokyo 2020; a vote to reintroduce the sport is planned for August.
– with files from Gary Kingston