Beijing, China --- The USA Softball team was crowned World Champions for the sixth consecutive time after defeating Japan 3-0 in the gold medal game of the XI ISF Women’s World Championship.
USA’s Cat Osterman out-dueled Japan’s Yukiko Ueno, who defeated the U.S. a couple days earlier, to earn her fifth victory of the championship. In seven innings of work, Osterman allowed only one hit and struck out 14 in helping the Americans secure the title.
Through the first two innings, both pitchers held their opposition hitless with Osterman striking out three of the six batters she faced while Ueno fanned one.
“Its amazing what 24 hours can do. Softball is a very humbling sport and you have to get used to the highs and lows. The three of these ladies up here today, Cat (Osterman), Jessica (Mendoza) and (Crystl) Bustos are veterans in my eyes,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “And games like today are what veterans do. They come through in tough situations. It was a great game and they performed very well against a very good team. We needed to be at our best today and the team was.”
In the top of the third inning, USA first baseman Jennie Finch broke up Ueno’s no-hitter with a lead-off single to left field. She was stranded, however, when Lovieanne Jung struckout and Laura Berg and Caitlin Lowe grounded out.
A lead-off walk to Megu Hirose in the bottom of the third provided Japan with its first baserunner of the game, but U.S. catcher Stacey Nuveman erased the threat with a snap throw to first that nailed Hirose. Osterman took care of the final two batters by recording her fourth and fifth strikeouts of the game.
With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Jessica Mendoza started a rally with a rocket through the left side of the infield and Crystl Bustos followed with a single to left center to put the first runner of the game in scoring position. Ueno responded to the challenge by getting Nuveman to pop-up to second base and Andrea Duran to chase a third strike out of the zone.
Japan broke up Osterman’s bid for a no-hitter in the bottom of the fourth inning when Emi Naito singled up the middle for the team’s only hit. No damage was done as Osterman got Eri Yamada to pop up and struck out Satoko Mabuchi.
The momentum of the game took a dramatic swing in the top of the sixth inning. With one out, Natasha Watley laid down a perfect bunt for her first hit of the game. Mendoza, who leads the USA in almost every possible offensive category, came through once again with a line drive home run to right field that broke-up the scoreless affair and gave the Red, White and Blue a 2-0 lead. Bustos extended the lead to 3-0 with a blast deep over the left field fence.
“Every pitcher has a plan each at-bat. She kept throwing me away and beat me at it with a strikeout earlier in the game. I didn’t want her to beat me again with that pitch,” said Mendoza. “It’s how the game works, and that’s why its so exciting. Sometimes she gets me and sometimes I get her. Today I got her and it’s nice to come out on the other side.”
Osterman took care of the rest by striking out nine of the last 10 batters she faced, including sitting down the side in the seventh inning.
Mendoza and Bustos were the offensive juggernauts for the USA all week long while Osterman took care of business in the circle. Mendoza finished the championship with a .500 batting average (16-for-32), five home runs, 14 runs scored and 16 RBIs. Bustos ended the championship with a .500 batting average (17-for-34), six doubles, two home runs, 10 runs scored and 14 RBIs.
Osterman registered a 6-0 mark in the circle as she pitched 41 of the 66 innings for the United States. She allowed just three earned runs while striking out 70 in six games.
The win solidifies the USA’s position as the No. 1 team in the world and earns it the top seed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“We learned a lot here. The venue here is very good and just needs a couple minor tweaks. They volunteers are great and well organized here,” said Candrea of his team’s experience. “It was a great experience for us and will be helpful in us planning for 2008. This has been a tremendous three weeks for us and the people of Beijing have been wonderful.”