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Cathi Aradi

USA Junior Olympic Team takes Silver

NANJING , CHINA -- In front of a sell out crowd, the USA Softball Junior Women’s team fell 3-2 in a disappointing extra inning loss against defending Junior World Champion Japan. Taking home the World Championship silver medal, a combination of U.S. errors hurt the Red, White and Blue attack after battling back with a 7-0 win over Australia earlier in the day to advance to the gold medal game. This marks the second consecutive World Championship silver medal for the U.S. Junior team as they fell 3-1 to Japan in 1999. The two teams have now faced each other in the gold medal game of the 19-and-under fast pitch event in five of the seven ISF Jr. Women’s World Championships, which is held every four years.

In top of the second inning the U.S. was in trouble early after a walk to Japanese lead off hitter Moe Yamasaki followed by a fielding error from first baseman Lisa Dodd ( San Diego , CA ) put two runners on board with no outs. An RBI blooper base hit from Yumi Shimabukuro then dropped to center field allowing Japan to take the 1-0 lead.

The U.S. bats fired back as Dodd ripped a hard hit base hit through the left side in the bottom of the second to kick start the U.S. offense. Designated player Desiree Williams ( Tucson , AZ ) then repeated with another single through the left side before a sacrifice bunt from Andrea Duran ( Selma , CA ) advanced the runners. The U.S. came up big again with two outs as they have the entire tournament when Jodie Legaspi ( Garden Grove , CA ) drove a line drive RBI hit to the third baseman scoring Dodd for the 1-1 tie. Continuing the two out rally, right fielder Jackie Rinehart (Reno, NV) then contributed an RBI double down the right field line plating Williams to take the 2-1 lead.

Silent through the third and fourth the Japanese tied the game 2-2 in the fifth off a fielding error from U.S. left fielder Duran. Yuia Kashima began the inning reaching first after being hit by a pitch from U.S. hurler Monica Abbott ( Salinas , CA ). A sacrifice bunt from Naoko Sakamoto advanced Kashima into scoring position before Masuyama Yuri, who finished 3-for-4, singled to left field before the Duran fielding error plated Kashima for the 2-2 tie.

Both teams were hitless through the sixth and seventh extending the game into extra innings. The International tie breaker rule was put into effect allowing the batter who made the last out to be placed on second base during the next offensive sequence. Placing Kashima at second, a fielding error from Abbott allowed Japan ’s Sakamoto to advance to first before Yuri’s third hit of the game plated the eventual winning run for Japan . As the home team the U.S. had a chance in the bottom of the eighth placing Benyi on second, but the U.S. offense just couldn’t respond falling 3-2 to take home the silver.

”The Japan team played a good game and I really think both teams really deserve a lot of credit for getting to the final game and making it a good one,” head coach Pam Newton said. “We played hard throughout this tournament and it has truly been a pleasure to work with this team and these players. They are all very talented and have great futures ahead of them.

Losing pitcher Abbott dropped to 2-2 in the tournament as the U.S. took home the silver medal with a final 8-2 record. They tallied seven hits and four errors in the final game while Williams led hitting 2-for-4. Throughout the championship, the U.S. outscored its opponents 71-7 while Benyi led the U.S. hitting at .519 followed closely by lead off hitter Caitlin Lowe ( Tustin , CA ) at .500. Zaplatosch led with 11 RBI and two homeruns while Benyi and Williams contributed three homeruns a piece.

From the circle, the pitching staff combined for a 0.15 ERA as Abbott finished with 58 total strikeouts and allowed 11 hits in four games pitched.