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Tokyo Olympics Softball: Five Takeaways From Day 4

(Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)

The gold medal game Team USA has been waiting 13 years for has come to fruition. After Japan left the Americans with a bitter taste in their mouths by beating the U.S. to win gold in 2008, Team USA will finally get its rematch. Both the U.S. and Japan posted extra-inning wins to improve to 4-0, leaving everyone else to play for bronze.

Here are five things we learned from the fourth day of Olympic softball action.

Australia is always fired up to play the United States. As Beth Mowins and Michele Smith were saying on the broadcast, Australia used to be Team USA’s main Olympic rival. In fact, the Aussies are the only team besides the Americans to win a medal at every Olympics where softball has been on the program, and the U.S. beat Australia to win gold in 2004.

On Sunday morning in Japan (Saturday evening in the U.S.), Australian pitcher Tarni Stepto held Team USA scoreless through seven innings, pitching out of jams in the first, third and fifth. Australia broke the scoreless tie in the top of the eighth with the international tiebreak rule in effect, bringing a run home on a bases-loaded walk, but the Americans came right back to win it in the bottom half on a two-run single to left by Amanda Chidester. It was Chidester’s second game-winning hit of the Olympics.

Monica Abbott is the best pitcher in the world right now. As good as her teammate, Cat Osterman, has been, Abbott is on another level. She pitched all eight innings in the Americans’ 2-1 win over Australia, giving up three hits and making up for her six walks with 13 strikeouts. She threw 126 pitches in the effort, and was especially fired up after striking out pinch-hitter Michelle Cox to escape a bases-loaded threat in the sixth. Expect coach Ken Ericksen to go with Abbott for the start against Japan in Tuesday’s gold medal game.

A pair of long balls carried Japan to a win over Italy. While the U.S. has yet to hit a home run in the Olympics, the hosts have had no such trouble. The Japanese shut out Italy 5-0 on the strength of a two-run blast in the fourth inning by Yu Yamamoto and a three-run shot in the sixth by Yamato Fujita. Miu Goto got the win, pitching five innings of one-hit ball with nine strikeouts, and Fujita threw two scoreless innings to close it out. Italy was held scoreless for the third straight game to open the Olympics.

Japan then outlasted Canada 1-0 to reach the gold medal game. If the Canadians had pulled off the upset, it would have created utter chaos, with Japan needing to beat the U.S. to be able to play for gold. Even the Americans, at 4-0, wouldn’t have officially clinched a spot in the gold medal game. But the defending gold medalists got it done. Yukiko Ueno threw six shutout innings before Goto got the Japanese through the seventh and eighth. Canada’s pitchers were in trouble in nearly every inning, and Japan finally pushed across the game-winner in the eighth when Eri Yamada’s single up the middle scored pinch-runner Hitomi Kawabata. Overall, seven of the first 11 games of round robin play have been shutouts.

The U.S.-Japan round robin game has been rendered nearly meaningless. The winner will bat last in the gold medal game, but other than that, it’s just a warmup for Tuesday. It’s a bit anticlimactic—no doubt the schedule-makers put this game last in the hope that it would carry a lot of weight. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both teams treat it like an exhibition. Ally Carda could give Osterman and Abbott a rest with some work for Team USA in the circle, and some of the other players who haven’t played much could also see some action.

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