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Japan Downs Team USA To Stay Perfect At International Cup

(Photo courtesy of USA Softball)

COLUMBUS, Ga. — It was a battle of the world's best national teams on Friday at the USA Softball International Cup. Top-ranked Team USA and No. 2 Japan entered the day as the only unbeaten squads at the World Baseball Softball Confederation–sanctioned event. But it would be the Japanese who would end the night with their perfect record at the 10-team tournament still intact, as Japan downed the U.S., 3–2.

Bragging rights—and the tournament's top seed—were on the line between the two rivals on Friday at South Commons Softball Complex. The meeting marked the fourth of the summer between the squads, as Japan took two out of three games from the Americans at the Japan All-Star Series in late June. Team USA outscored the Japanese 11–9 in that series, despite dropping two of three.

Keilani Ricketts got the start for the Americans, who defeated Japan for the title at last year's International Cup, while Misaki Katsumata was given the ball for the Japanese.

After a double from Nodoka Harada led off the game, a single from Japanese clean-up hitter Saki Yamazaki later in the top of the first gave Japan an early 1–0 lead.

A walk to Valerie Arioto got the American offense going in the bottom of the second inning, which was followed by a free pass to Michelle Moultrie after she was hit by a pitch. Sahvanna Jaquish then loaded the bases in the frame with a single, but Japan avoided the one-out threat to keep its 1–0 advantage.

Ally Carda relieved Ricketts in the top of the third, but soon surrendered a run-scoring single to Yamazaki—her second of the game—that increased Japan's lead to 2–0.

The Americans did not go away quietly, however. Arioto, a USA Softball–veteran, tied things up at two runs apiece in the bottom of the third inning with a towering two-run shot off of Katsumata.

The U.S. threatened in the bottom of the fifth, but the game's scoring stalled after Arioto's bomb until the top of the sixth. A one-out walk to Mana Atsumi in the frame chased Carda from the game in favor of Monica Abbott, who subsequently gave up a base hit to Nozomi Ozaki that broke the tie and gave Japan a one-run lead it would not relinquish.

Team USA managed just four hits off of Katsumata, who pitched a complete game with four strikeouts in her team's win.

With their loss on Friday, the Americans fall to 6–1 at the International Cup, while the Japanese improve to 8–0 with one day of round-robin action remaining. The two teams with the best record after Saturday's contests will compete in Sunday's championship game at 12 p.m. ET, while the third-place game will take place at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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