The 2013 World Cup of Softball is approaching its final day, and there has been plenty of excitement thus far.
Four teams started play on Thursday. Friday saw six teams try to better their place in the standings, with some trying to build of their progress from the day before.
The question is, who came through and picked up victories on the third day of action?
In our first of four games, Japan took on Puerto Rico. The Japanese were looking to rebound from their close 2-1 loss to Canada, while Puerto Rico was hoping to notch its first win of the tournament.
Puerto Rico unfortunately didn't win either of its two games to drop to 0-3 in pool play, as the club lost the second game to Canada as well.
Saturday's play concluded with the US going up against Japan.
Here's how it all played out and what impact it had on the standings.
Japan 6, USA 3 (Japan wins World Cup)
After six straight years of watching America hoist the World Cup of Softball trophy, Japan wanted their crown back.
In a dominating performance on the mound that was catapulted by an early onslaught of runs, Japan took down the USA in a 6-3 win to secure the championship.
Japan quickly went up 5-0 entering the bottom half of the second after a four-run second inning, but the Americans would get back-to-back runs in the second and third to cut it to 5-2.
The Japanese extended the lead to 6-2 in the early half of the fourth, and it took a great pitching performance from reliever Sara Nevins to keep Team USA in contention in the final few innings.
Although Nevins' pitching gave USA a chance, the bats didn't come up with anything that threatened Japan's four-run lead.
That is, until Japan was one pitch away from winning. Then, Valerie Arioto would hit a double that scored Amanda Chidester and cut the lead to 6-3.
That rally would end up just being too late, as Japan quickly clinched the championship after Arioto's double.
Australia 4, Canada 3 (extra innings)
After losing in the championship game last year, Australia struggled to find their stride in 2013.
However, they finished with a bang by avenging an earlier loss to Canada in an exciting, 4-3 win on Sunday.
It was a defensive struggle through the first four innings, as Australia's Vanessa Stokes and Canada's Marina Demore dueled on the mound to keep it scoreless until the fifth inning.
In the top of the fifth, Belinda White would get on base for the Aussies and Clare Warwick brought her home on a fielder's choice that started off the scoring.
Canada had three innings left to tie up the score, and they did so in the bottom of the sixth on an error that allowed Victoria Hayward to knot it up at 1-1.
It would end up going into extra innings, when three big runs early on on the eighth inning looked to seal the deal for Australia.
But Canada would nearly come back in the bottom half, coming up just one run short in the 4-3 defeat.
USA 10, Puerto Rico 3 (5 innings)
The U.S. bounced back nicely from their Saturday loss to Japan. Although, it didn't look like that would be the case early.
Puerto Rico went for three runs in the top of the first off of Aimee Creger on Sunday to take a 3-0 lead that held until the bottom of the third. Then, the American bats came to life.
Th U.S. went for five runs in the third and then another five in the fifth to take a 10-3 lead and end the game via the run rule.
Catcher Amber Freeman led the way. She went 2-for-3 from the plate and both hits were home runs. She tallied four RBI with her blasts.
Creger wound up going 1.1 innings before being relieved by Valerie Arioto. Arioto went the remainder of the game allowing just one hit and no runs.
The win was significant because it landed the Americans a berth in the championship game. However, after rain delayed the start of play on Sunday, the schedule has been thrown off. Tournament officials are still planning of playing the championship game on Sunday.
The ASA and USA Softball twitter account passed along the news:
Japan 4, Puerto Rico 0
A masterful pitching job by Japan starter Kana Nakano resulted in four innings of three-hit ball in which she walked one and stuck out three. Miki Kozono then came on to finish out the game and tossed three hitless innings to preserve the shutout.
Lead-off hitter Aisha Figueroa accounted for two of Puerto Rico's three hits, but none of her other teammates could muster anything at the dish.
Two costly errors caused Puerto Rico to yield two unearned runs in a three-run third by Japan, which wound up being the true difference in the game.
It was the definition of small ball–if it could even be called such a thing. Rie Nagayoshi started the two-out charge by being hit by a pitch, then swiped second base. Control continued to be a problem, as Lissette Garay walked the next two Japanese hitters.
A passed ball by catcher Aleimalee Lopez plated the first run, then Garay dealt another free pass to Yuka Ichiguchi, and gave her an RBI in the process.
No offense was generated for Puerto Rico to get back into the game, and that turned out to be a theme for the rest of the day.
Australia 6, Puerto Rico 2
Despite the success Figueroa had in the No. 1 spot in the order for Puerto Rico in the first game, she came off the bench as a pinch-hitter.
Australia jumped out to a 3-0 lead through three innings, and despite a response from the opposition—courtesy of a two-run single by Lopez—the favorites plated three runs of their own in the bottom half of the fifth inning.
A monster game came from shortstop Stacey McManus, who improved her World Cup average to .600 by going 2-for-2 with a home run and all four of Australia's runs batted in.
Aimee Murch had a solid if not spectacular day on the mound in Oklahoma City.
The hurler dealt five innings and yielding five hits and two earned runs while striking out four. Sandra Holden spelled her and converted the save opportunity with two scoreless innings.
Canada 2, Australia 0
Unfortunately, the Australians couldn't maintain the momentum generated by their victory in the back half of their double-header, as their bats fell completely flat against Canada.
Sara Plourde made her third appearance but first start of the World Cup, and for the second consecutive time taking the bump, she didn't allow a single run—this time over 4.2 innings.
Center fielder Caitlin Lever was the second batter of the game for Canada, and socked a single off of Sandra Holden. Cleanup hitter Jennifer Gilbert then stepped up a batter later with two outs and drove her home with a double, giving Canada the early advantage.
That wound up being the game-winning run, but insurance came in the fifth inning.
Pinch-running speedster Larissa Franklin substituted for Victoria Rumph after she had walked, promptly stole second base, then scored from there when Joey Lye singled.
Japan 7, USA 4
While the two lowest squads in the standings couldn't get up for their second games on Saturday, it was an entirely different story for Japan—who made a nice bit of history en route to a victory over the hosts.
As Australia's softball Facebook page pointed out, the seven runs Japan plated were the most scored on the U.S. since August 1983.
So it's been nearly three decades since the Americans had been shelled that badly, and it came in a contest where they could have locked up a spot in Sunday's championship game.
An extraordinary effort by Japan's Yukiko Ueno saw her pitch the full seven innings against the high-octane U.S. lineup and allow four runs—though only three were earned—and strike out eight.
Amanda Chidester briefly revived hopes for the Americans at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with a two-run shot in the fifth to cut the lead to 6-4, but Japan bounced back with a run in the top of the sixth.
Everything really unraveled in the fourth, as the typically reliable southpaw Sara Nevins was lit up for three RBI singles after relieving Cheridan Hawkins. That was after Nevins pitched five shutout frames against Canada in the United States' 7-0 victory just two days prior.
The win allows Japan to ascend to a tie at the top with Canada, but the Americans are just a half game back. As long as they take care of business against winless Puerto Rico tomorrow at noon central time, the U.S. will still advance to the World Cup finale.
Japan 3, Australia 2
In our first of two games, former champion and four-time runner-up Japan and took on two-time second-place finisher Australia. In a clash between the two teams perceived to be in the conversation with Team USA as the best in the world, they didn't disappoint.
It took a marvelous effort for Japan to hold on 3-2.
Yukiko Ueno was marvelous for Japan, throwing a complete game with two earned runs allowed and seven strikeouts. Australian starter Aimee Murch wasn't as lucky, allowing two runs in one inning before the bullpen threw 6.0 innings of one-run work.
From start to finish, it was nothing short of tension and competition.
Misato Kawano led the game off with a single before Rei Nishiyama sent her to second base with a single of her own. Two batters later, catcher Yukiyo Mine loaded the bases with a single of her own and we were in business.
All it took was a fielder's choice from Misa Okubo and Japan jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
One batter later, Rie Nagayoshi picked up an RBI single to push Japan's lead to two runs. Murch managed to survive the rest of the inning and get out before the damage could get too bad.
Even still, Japan had sent a message to everyone in this tournament—they're still elite.
Kaia Parnaby helped quiet the Japanese bats during her first two innings of work, but Ueno was equally as proficient through her first two. During the third inning, however, Australia reminded the world of who they are.
Leigh Godfrey started out the top of the third inning with a two-strike single, and with magnificent baserunning, managed to cross home plate just one batter later. With Chelsea Forkin driving in Jodie Bowering mere batters later, the 2-0 deficit was erased.
Just like that, we were tied at 2-2.
Just as Australia built up momentum, however, the top of the fourth rolled around and Japan struck again. With yet another flurry of singles, the Japanese put their star of the day in position to step up once again.
Nagayoshi did just that, crossing the plate for a run after driving one in during the top of the first.
With Japan up 3-2, Australia was aggressive, but routinely left runners stranded with Ueno pitching a masterpiece. From her rising pitches to her cutting fastballs, there was a little bit of everything.
In the end, it was just too much for Australia to counter.
USA 7, Canada 0
The hometown heroes and unquestioned favorites, Team USA, took the field against Canada in a high-scoring affair. By high-scoring, of course, I mean to say that the Americans ran up the runs and Canada could hardly put their bats on the ball.
You can thank USF Bulls star and USA starting pitcher Sara Nevins for that.
Nevins was remarkable, pitching 5.0 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and striking out six batters. Canadian pitcher Jenna Caira was strong, but she got roughed up early and was thus unable to recover in time to prevent Team USA from striking early.
One run ended up being all USA needed to win.
Michelle Moultrie walked to start the game off and quickly moved to third base on a single by Lauren Gibson. Gibson proceeded to steal second base, with Lauren Chamberlain subsequently walking to load them up.
With Valerie Arioto coming up with an 0-2 single, the U.S. scored two runs and took a commanding lead.
One inning later, Raven Chavanne came up with a two-out single to keep the Americans alive in the top of the second. With no hesitation, she proceeded to steal second base and thus put Canada in a tight bind.
After Lauren Gibson was hit in the batter's box both players advanced on a wild pitch, and Chavanne later scored on an error. Gibson soon followed on a double steal, thus putting the Canadians in a dangerous 4-0 hole.
The U.S. added another three runs, including a home run from Gibson—Canada wouldn't recover.
Nevins dominated on the mound, mixing up her pitches and taking command of this game with her precision and power. Even when Canada did put the ball into play, her performance was too strong to overcome.
Team USA started out in style with a huge 7-0 shutout.
Canada 13, Puerto Rico 3
It basically took two innings for Canada to rebound from their 7-0 loss to the United States. The Canadians wasted little time in taking apart Puerto Rico, as they scored four runs in the first inning and nine in the second.
Things didn't look good for Canada when they surrendered the first run of the game in the top of the first inning. The second batter of the game, Dayanira Diaz, singled. She then advanced to second when Karla Claudio walked. Having issues with control, Marina Demore hit Nicole Springer to load the bases. Diaz scored on a sac fly from Charlise Castro.
To her credit, Demore got out of the inning without any more damage done.
Then came the Canadian onslaught.
Joey Lye lead off the bottom of the first with a single. In what would be a sign of things to come, she worked herself around the bases and scored on a wild pitch.
Lissette Garay was really having problems finding the strike zone. She ended up walking five batters and throwing two wild pitches. Elicia D'Orazio also let a pitch get by for a passed ball in the first inning, which led to Canada's second run.
Megan Timpf scored on a sac fly from Jennifer Gilbert, while Heather Ebert scored on a single by Sara Hopwood to round out the scoring. Canada did a great job of getting runners on base and working them around the diamond.
Garay was bounced after pitching only 1.1 innings, in which she gave up 10 runs, seven of which were earned, on just five hits.
The nine runs they scored in the bottom of the second came on six hits. It was small ball at its best.
Puerto Rico added two in the top of the third on a two-run home run from Nicole Springer. It wasn't enough to prevent the game from ending in the fourth inning.
When you look at the stats, it's incredible that Canada were able to score 13 runs. They only had one extra-base hit, a triple from Larissa Franklin in the second inning.
Canada only had three more hits than Puerto Rico but were able to win by 10 runs. Of course it helps when you get eight walks. Canada were patient at the plate and were smart when they got on base.
Canada 2, Japan 1
Canada needed a bit more luck in their second game, yet managed to come out with a vital 2-1 win over Japan.
Scoring was at a premium in this one as both teams' pitching staffs managed to avoid giving up any big hits and worked efficiently through innings.
Canada started the scoring in the bottom of the third inning. Natalie Wideman led off the half-inning with a single. She advanced to second when Victoria Hayward grounded into a fielder's choice. After a wild pitch from Kana Nakano, Wideman went to third. She scored on a single from Caitlin Lever.
It was another case of Canada getting a base hit and slowly but surely working her around the bases. In a game like this, you had to take advantage of whatever baserunners you could get.
Japan waiting another inning and a half for their response. Sonoka Kuniyoshi singled to start off the inning. She then came around to score on a single by Yuka Ichiguchi. Jennifer Gilbert committed an error when throwing to third, which let Kuniyoshi score to tie the game.
The Japanese couldn't take advantage of the runner and left her stranded on second to end the inning.
It wouldn't be until the final at bat of the game that Canada struck back.
Kelsey Haberl got a single to start the bottom of the seventh. Erika Polidori was brought in to run for Haberl. Polidori advanced to second on a fielder's choice by Sara Hopwood. With the winning run now in scoring position, it was all on Wideman, and she duly delivered. She doubled to bring in Polidori and win the game.
Wideman was no doubt the player of the game. She finished 2-for-2 and was responsible for both of Canada's two runs.
Starting pitcher Jenna Caira deserves credit as well as went 4.1 innings, giving up one unearned run on four hits and struck out four batters.
Friday was a great day for Canada as they went from the outhouse to the penthouse in a matter of hours. The two wins meant they'd be second to the United States in the standings and jumped a half-game ahead of Japan.
United States 4, Australia 0
The United States remain the only unbeaten team after they downed Australia, 4-0, on Friday night.
Jessica Moore pitched an absolute gem. She went the full seven innings, giving up just one hit and striking out four.
The US got enough, with all four of their runs coming in the third inning.
Kourtney Salvarola led off the bottom of the third with a single. Michelle Moultrie was next up, and she singled to put runners on first and second. They advanced a base when Taylor Hoagland grounded out to a fielder's choice. Lauren Gibson brought both runners around when she got the US's third single of the inning.
After Gibson stole second, she scored on a double by Valerie Arioto. She eventually scored on what was the team's fourth single of the inning, this time from Nicole Hudson.
It was just a great job of the United States putting ducks on the pond and managing to bring them around. It's not always about the long ball, as evidenced by Canada's win over Puerto Rico. Sometimes you just need to get timely hitting and smart baserunning.
From there, the United states went hitless, but the damage had already been done. When your starting pitcher is on like that, you don't need much offense.
Australia's Kaia Parnaby deserves a lot of credit. She came on in the fourth inning and didn't allow a hit while striking out three and walking one.
With the win, the United States are in a commanding position in the standings. They've got a half-game lead over Canada with one less game played.
The players thanked the crowd after the game, per the ASA and USA Softball Twitter account.
This loss could be devastating for Australia. They've failed to pick up a win in their first two games and have a lot of work to do if they're to work their way back up the standings.
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