ENSCHEDE, Netherlands – As a lazy fly ball landed in the glove of Brittany Lastrapes, the third base dugout emptied onto the field in celebration as the USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team defeated Japan 3-1 Saturday afternoon to become the new world champions. The win capped off a perfect 11 days as the Americans went 10-0 to capture the championship of the ISF Junior Women’s World Championship at the Tex Town Complex.
The win didn’t come easy, as the USA had to fight from behind early. Japan scored an unearned run in the top of the first inning to mark just the second time in 10 games the USA has trailed. But the Americans took the lead back in the second inning thanks to a two-run, five-hit effort.
Tiffany Huff got the rally going with a single to center field. Ashley Brignac singled up the middle to put two on with two out, and Bianca Mejia came through with a big RBI single up the middle to tie the game. And later in the inning, Lastrapes singled through the right side of the infield to drive in Brignac and give the USA the lead.
The USA tacked on an insurance run in the fifth inning when Monica Harrison reached on a fielder’s choice, driving in Alissa Haber to make it 3-1. The Japanese team had several chances, putting runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but couldn’t capitalize. In the seventh, Japan got the leadoff runner on and moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt, but Donna Kerr got a strikeout and then got Yuki Hayashi to fly out to Lastrapes in left field to set off a wild celebration.
“Obviously, we’re all very excited,” Lastrapes said. “I’m really proud to represent my country and to be the first USA Junior team to win the gold in 12 years. Even when we fell behind today, we kept battling and we never gave up. We knew we could do it; we just didn't want to panic.”
Brignac got the start in the gold medal game and went three and one-third innings. She allowed one unearned run on six hits while walking one and striking out one. Megan Elliott picked up the win in relief, throwing two strong innings while giving up four hits. Kerr pitched the final 1.2 innings, striking out two, to pick up the save.
“I thought we fought back after falling behind early to put some runs on the board to go ahead,” said head coach Jay Miller. “We gave ourselves a chance every inning, and I knew it was just a matter of time before we broke through. But Japan did the same thing. We really stepped up defensively and got great pitching from all three girls. They got us out of jams. It was just a great team effort and a great job from the pitching staff to shut down an outstanding Japan team.”
At the plate, the USA had five players – Lastrapes, Haber, Ashley Hansen, Harrison and Mejia - record two hits apiece, while Huff and Brignac each had one.
Lastrapes was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and was also named to the all-tournament team as the tournament’s best left fielder. She batted .548 with 17 hits, six RBIs and five stolen bases. Viefhaus was named the tournament’s best third baseman, earning all-tournament honors. She batted .429 with nine hits and six RBIs.
“I can’t explain how I felt when they called my name,” Lastrapes said. “I was completely in shock, but I was also so excited. I’ve never felt that before.”
The championship game marked the USA’s sixth consecutive time in the gold medal contest, winning in 1987 in Oklahoma City, Okla., 1995 in Normal, Ill., and now 2007 in Enschede, Netherlands. For the tournament, the Red, White and Blue outscored its opponents 88-4.
“I’m just really proud,” Miller said. “The kids bought in to what we were trying to do from day one and came together as a ball club. I’m very proud of the way they represented the United States and USA Softball. This was a great group to work with. The coaching staff – Suzy Brazney, Barbara Jordan and Cheri Kempf – did a wonderful job in terms of scouting our opponents and preparing our team to play. It was just a great team effort by everyone involved.”