BEIJING, China --- A day removed from suffering its first tournament loss at the hands of Japan, the USA Softball Women’s National Team kept its hopes alive for a sixth consecutive ISF Women’s World Championship title by defeating Australia, 5-1, in the bronze medal game. While Australia takes bronze, the U.S. earns a chance for revenge against undefeated Japan in the grand final at 6 a.m. CT on Tuesday.
“We did what we had to do to get into the championship game,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “Now we will go out and try to finish the championship off like we know we can.”
Cat Osterman got off to a quick start by fanning the first two batters she faced, but Australia’s Stacey Porter was up to the challenge and sent a 1-1 pitch over the right centerfield fence to give Australia a quick 1-0 advantage. It was the first home run the USA allowed in the World Championships and the third hit by Porter.
The U.S. could not counter in the bottom of the first as they left two runners stranded. With one out, Natasha Watley reached on a single to left field and moved into scoring position when Jessica Mendoza singled up the middle. Both were left on base when Crystl Bustos and Stacey Nuveman popped up to the centerfielder to end the inning.
Andrea Duran led off the home half of the second with a walk and moved into scoring position when Jennie Finch laid down a sacrifice bunt to push her to second. It looked as if the U.S. would squander another scoring opportunity as Lovieanne Jung popped up for the second out of the inning, but Laura Berg would not let this opportunity pass as she singled to center field to score Duran and tie the game 1-1.
Osterman retired Australia in order in the top of the third inning and her offense went to work in the bottom half of the inning. Mendoza, who leads the U.S. with five home runs, changed her strategy and surprised the Aussie defense with a bunt single. A wild pitch proved costly for Aussie pitcher Melanie Roche as it moved Mendoza into scoring position and gave Bustos the opportunity to swing away rather than sacrifice her at-bat.
Bustos took advantage and recorded an RBI single to centerfield that plated Mendoza and gave the USA its first lead of the game. A single by Nuveman to center advanced Bustos to third and chased Roche from the game in favor of veteran hurler Tanya Harding. The move paid off as Harding snuffed out the U.S. rally by retiring the next three batters in order.
Harding remained solid in the fourth inning, but the U.S. hitters caught up with her in the fifth to her to extend the lead to 3-1. Mendoza led off the inning with her third hit of the day and Bustos matched her effort with a single to put her in scoring position. Duran, who struggled in her first at-bat against Harding, came through with a single to right center that scored Mendoza and gave the U.S. an insurance run.
Australia collected its second hit of the game in the top of the sixth inning when Marissa Carpadios dropped in a bloop single to right field to bring Porter, who homered in the first inning, to the plate with the tying run. With a full count, Porter popped up to Jung at second base to end the inning.
An infield single by Watley led to two more runs for the U.S. when Bustos crushed her first home run of these World Championships to give the Red, White and Blue a solid 5-1 victory.
Osterman finished the game allowing only one run on two hits while striking out 10 to send the U.S. into the gold medal game. With the win she improves to 5-0 and moves into a tie for second place on the USA all-time list for wins in a single World Championship.
The top four hitters in the USA lineup were responsible for nine of the 12 hits in the game. Mendoza and Bustos led the offensive attack with 3-for-4 outings at the plate. Bustos was also responsible for driving in three of the five runs in the game.
The USA will be competing in its sixth consecutive title game at the World Championships. The Grand Final is a rematch of the 2002 World Championship Grand Final when the U.S. defeated Japan 1-0 to earn its fifth consecutive World Championship.