SENDAI, Japan — The USA Softball National team spilt the final day of the Sendai three-game series with Japan, capturing the series following Wednesday’s opening-game win.
Recording three home runs, the U.S. opened Thursday with a 5-3 afternoon win before suffering a 1-0 loss in the evening game. Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno recorded 12 strikeouts in the evening’s contest.
Overall, the U.S. posted a 4-3 record for the Japan trip, and leftfielder Jessica Mendoza led the offense with a .476 average. Tairia Flowers had a team-high seven RBIs with three home runs on the week.
GAME 2: JAPAN 1 USA 0
Ueno, who fanned 12 U.S. batters, held the United States to just two hits en route to the 1-0 Japanese victory.
A wild pitch from losing pitcher Amanda Freed in the opening frame was the only run Japan would need. Freed loaded the bases on two walks and a base hit from Rei Nishiyama.
“Freed had a rocky first inning and then really settled down and threw well,” said head coach Mike Candrea. “We had some opportunities tonight and just couldn’t get the big hit. I thought we competed hard and we look forward to seeing them again in the future. Ueno is a solid pitcher and throws hard. She has a good off-speed pitch.”
Battling the speed and power of Ueno, Jennie Finch recorded the first U.S. hit of the game in the top of the third inning as she drove the ball through the right side. Team USA left Finch stranded, however, as Ueno baffled the U.S. with a strikeout and ground out to end the half inning.
The U.S. saw its first runner of the game reach scoring position in the top of the fifth. Flowers struck out swinging, but was called safe when first baseman Nishiyama committed an error fielding the catch on a dropped third strike. A fielder’s choice from Jenny Topping put Flowers out at second before pinch runner Natasha Watley entered for Topping and stole second. Ueno got Finch to strike out to end the threat and keep Japan on top with the slim 1-0 advantage.
The U.S. saw its final scoring opportunity to score in the sixth inning with runners at the corners. Vicky Galindo reached on a fielder’s choice before advancing to third on a hit from Jessica Mendoza. Ueno struck again, however, as Stacey Nuveman battled fouling off several pitches before being caught frozen on a third strike.
GAME 1: USA 5 JAPAN 3
Recording three home runs in the game, the U.S. captured its second consecutive victory against Japan Thursday afternoon in a 5-3 decision. Fighting the heat of the indoor stadium, Flowers, Stacey Nuveman and Mendoza each contributed the long ball, while a combined pitching effort lifted the U.S. over Japan.
“It was nice to see us use our power today,” said Nuveman. “I felt like I was seeing the ball well and just relaxed in the box, taking my time with every pitch.”
Starting pitcher Monica Abbott captured her first national team victory, going four innings and allowing two runs on four hits. Jamie Southern added two innings, and Cat Osterman closed the game in the seventh to earn the save.
Japan jumped on the top of the U.S. 2-0 in the first inning. Three successful bunts placed runners at second and third with one out. A strikeout from Abbott changed the U.S. momentum, but Japan’s Naoko Sakamoto delivered a two-RBI base hit up the middle to give Japan a 2-0 lead.
RBI leader Flowers put the U.S. on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second with a lead off solo home run, her third round-tripper of the week, to centerfield that cut Japan’s lead to 2-1. Later in the inning, Jennie Finch reached third base representing the tying run. A line drive to third base from Lowe, however, ended the U.S. hopes to tie the game.
Despite the failed attempt to tie the game in the second, the U.S. took control of the game in the bottom of the third inning with back-to-back solo home runs. Mendoza drove a 3-2 offering to centerfield before Nuveman powered the ball deep over the left field bleachers to propel U.S. on top 3-2. Reaching on a Japanese error at first base, Wilkerson recorded the third U.S. run of the inning as she scored on a Flowers single through the right side for the 4-2 lead.
The United States increased the lead to 5-2 in the fifth as Natasha Watley roped a double through the right side. Watley later advanced to third on a wild pitch and extended the U.S. lead to 5-2 as she crossed the plate on Mendoza’s sacrifice fly.
Eri Yamada delivered a triple to left center in the top of the sixth inning and scored on a groundout from Mayumi Yoshida to cut the U.S. lead to 5-3, but that would be all the offense Japan would be able to muster off Southern and Osterman.
Southern entered the circle in the fifth for the U.S. and allowed one earned run, one walk and one strikeout over two innings. Cat Osterman closed the game for the U.S. in the seventh inning, allowing one hit and recording one strikeout.
The U.S. totaled six hits in the contest as Flowers was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Motoko Fujimoto led all batters with a 3-for-4 offensive performance.