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Japan Defeats USA To Capture Gold Medal, Canada Takes Bronze

(Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)

It appeared Team USA finally had Japan on its heels.

Trailing by two in the sixth inning of the gold medal game, the Americans got singles from Michelle Moultrie and Janie Reed to create their best scoring chance of the game. Miu Goto had relieved Japanese ace Yukiko Ueno, and Amanda Chidester, who had delivered two game-winning hits earlier in the week, was coming to the plate.

Chidester hit a line drive to third that glanced off Yu Yamamoto’s wrist, but ricocheted right to shortstop Mana Atsumi. Atsumi fired to second to double off Moultrie, and Team USA’s threat was snuffed out right then and there.

It was that kind of night for the Americans, who fell to host Japan 2-0 in the gold medal game. In a rematch of the 2008 final, the U.S. again took home the silver.

Here are five things we learned from the medal round at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese pitching staff got the job done. Many have been quick to criticize the roster selections for Ken Eriksen’s team, but the truth was the Americans just faced good pitching in every game. Ueno was masterful on Tuesday, pitching five scoreless innings before Goto took over after a leadoff single in the sixth. After Goto escaped the jam with help from her defense, Ueno returned to the circle in the seventh, retiring the U.S. in order to win the gold. Ueno, who just turned 39, is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the world.

That said, the Americans had their chances. Reed hit a one-out triple in the first inning and tried to score on a wild pitch, but Japanese catcher Haruka Agatsuma threw her out at the plate. Ueno worked around a leadoff walk in the fifth, and of course the unlucky double play killed Team USA’s rally in the sixth.

Osterman, Carda and Abbott were good, but not good enough. Team USA’s pitching staff, led by Osterman and Monica Abbott, were outstanding throughout the Olympics, but never had much margin for error. The U.S. decided to go with a pitch-by-committee approach in the gold medal game, with Ally Carda relieving Osterman after a leadoff walk in the third. Carda gave up a run in the fourth on an infield single by Atsumi, and after a two-out single in the fifth, Abbott replaced Carda in the circle. But she promptly threw a wild pitch, which came back to cost the U.S. when Yamato Fujita singled to right to drive in the second run.

Japan’s hitters, seeing the Americans for the second day in a row, were able to time up Team USA’s pitching better than any other team in the Olympics. The Japanese pounded out eight hits and easily could have scored more if not for some great U.S. defense. Moultrie and Ali Aguilar both made great plays in the early innings to keep runs off the board, and Reed robbed Fujita of a two-run homer to end the top of the seventh.

Canada played small ball to secure the bronze with a 3-2 win over Mexico. The Canadians broke through against Mexico starter Danielle O’Toole in the second inning. It all started when Jenn Salling beat out a bunt single, and she moved to second when Mexican second basemen Chelsea Gonzales couldn’t handle the throw on Erika Polidori’s grounder on a potential force play. Both runners advanced a base on a Sara Groenewegen groundout before Emma Entzminger dumped a single into left to bring them both home.

Mexico chipped away, cutting the deficit to one in the third on a Brittany Cervantes single to score Sydney Romero. Suzannah Brookshire drove in Romero with an RBI single of her own in the fifth to tie the game. But Canada came right back in the bottom half. Janet Leung and Victoria Hayward singled to lead off the inning, Larissa Franklin bunted them both up a base and Kelsey Harshman’s sacrifice fly scored Leung for what turned out to be the winning run.

Danielle Lawrie deserves this moment. Lawrie pitched for Canada at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, while she was still in college at Washington. She came out of retirement in anticipation of the Tokyo Games and helped her country win its first-ever Olympic medal in softball. Lawrie pitched 11.1 innings this week without allowing an earned run, and she got the win in the bronze medal game after entering in the fifth and giving up just one hit over the final 2.1 innings, striking out four.

We have to wait at least seven years to see softball on the Olympic stage again. Softball and baseball will not be on the program at the 2024 Games in Paris, and while there’s hope they will return for Los Angeles in 2028, a lot will have changed in the sport by then. Many of this year’s Olympians will never get another opportunity to play at this level. The quality of play in Japan should still create plenty of momentum for softball, though, and there should be no debating its merit as an Olympic sport.

kianna jones photo by unc athletics.jpg

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