USA are back-to-back World Softball Champions today in Chiba, Japan, after a memorable finale against the host team, in front of nearly 12,000 fans at ZOZO Marine Stadium. The American team defeated Japan, 7-6, on a walk-off single by Kelsey Stewart in the tenth inning, and went undefeated on the tournament. USA also secured a berth in the Olympic Tokyo 2020 Games.
It was one the best softball games in the history of the World Championship. The best two teams in the world clashed in a classic battle that will last forever in the memory of thousands present at the stadium and millions watching around the world.
Japan took the lead in the top of the second inning with a three-hit rally; Mana Atsumi led off with a hard grounder in the 5-6 hole, for an infield hit. Yamato Fujita followed with a single through the middle to put runners on first and second with no outs. One out later Haruka Agatsuma plated the first run of the game with a single to left field.
Japan added one more run in the third frame with an RBI triple off the bat of Yu Yamamoto. The third baseman came to the plate with two outs and Saki Yamazaki on first, hitting a line drive to the right-field corner to produce the second run for the host team.
In the bottom of the third, USA again puts two runners on, but this time they took advantage of the situation. Spaulding stepped to the plate with Haylie McCleney and Ali Aguilar on board, and she took advantage of a 3-2 pitch from Ueno to hit a line-drive home run to the right field to put USA on top for the first time in the game. These were the first three runs Ueno allowed in the tournament.
Pitcher Kelly Barnhill replaced starter Keilani Ricketts for USA in the fourth inning retiring the four batters she faced. But in the top of the fifth, Coach Ken Ericksen pulled her from the game bringing lefty Danielle O’Toole to face left-handed hitter Eri Yamada. But the veteran Japanese center field hit a single through the middle, and then O’Toole walked Yamazaki. Ericksen made another pitching change and opted to send Rachel Garcia to face Yamamoto, on a righty-righty matchup. Yamamoto won the battle with a walk to load the bases, but then Atsumi stranded the three runners with a strikeout.
In the top of the sixth inning, the crowd erupted when Yamato Fujita launched a solo shot to left field to tie the game.
After a scoreless seventh inning, the game went into international tie-breaker. For Japan, Hitomi Kawata sacrificed to move the runner to third base, and then pinch hitter Minori Naito peppered the ball to second base to score the go-ahead run for Japan.
For USA, Valerie Arioto bunted and first baseman Natsuko Sugama tried to get Aguilar out at third base, but the throw was not on time, leaving runners in the corners with nobody out. Ueno struck out Spaulding, but Michelle Moultrie tied the game again with an RBI single to right field. Still, with runners on first and second and one out, Garcia fouled out to first base and Munro hit a grounder to second.
Monica Abbott got the ball for USA in the ninth and struck out Yamada to start the inning. Ichiguchi hit to second base and Aguilar made a barehanded play to retire the second out, but the runner advanced to third. Then Abbot pitched three consecutive balls to Yamazaki, and Ericksen decided to walk her intentionally and Yamamoto to load the bases. Finally, Atsumi hit a grounder to second base to end the inning scoreless for Japan.
In the top of the tenth Japanese head coach Reika Utsugi decided not to bunt and give Fujita the green light to swing the ball. And the designated player made the stadium explode again with a two-run homer to right center field, her second of the game, giving Japan a two-run lead.
However, with one out in the bottom of the tenth Spaulding hit an RBI single to cut the difference, and Moultrie hit another single to right field to put runners on the corners. Then Munro hit a line drive to left field for a ground-rule double to tie the game again and leave runners on second and third.
Stewart stepped into the box with the winning run on third. Ueno, ahead in the count tried to finish her with an outside pitch, but Stewart connected an opposite-field single down the third base line to clinch the World Championship for USA.
Courtesy of WBSC