Japan repeats as softball champs 13 years apart, downing United States in final


Japan’s Mana Atsumi, right, is forced out by United States’ Delaney Spaulding during a softball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(NBC Olympics) — On home soil, in an event their nation rescued from a state of Olympic neglect specifically for these Games, Japan’s softball team delivered a near flawless performance to defeat the United States 2-0 in a gold medal rematch 13 years in the making.

The pitching matchup was a poetically familiar one. 4,724 days after squaring off in the Beijing 2008 gold medal game, 38-year-old Cat Osterman and 39-year-old Ueno Yukiko shared the pitching circle once again.

Osterman, though, was unable to locate her best stuff and lasted just one batter into the third inning. Japanese batters reached base in each frame against the two-time Olympic medalist, though stellar defense from the U.S. fielders kept the game scoreless

Michele Moultrie authored one of the defensive highlights of the entire tournament in the bottom of the second, robbing Ichiguchi Yuka of an RBI extra-base hit with a spinning grab at the wall.

After Osterman began the top of the third with a walk, Team USA head coach Ken Eriksen removed the two-time Olympic medalist from the game in favor of relief pitcher Ally Carda. Osterman allowed two hits and did not record a strikeout.

Carda – with the help of second base Ali Aguilar – got the U.S. out of a third inning jam to keep Osterman’s earned run total for the tournament at zero.

In top of the fourth, though, Japan scraped across the first run of the game on an infield single by Atsumi Mana, driving in Fujita Yamato from third.

Midway through the fifth inning, Monica Abbott entered as Team USA’s third pitcher. She allowed a single to her first batter, Fujita, scoring an inherited runner to give Japan a 2-0 lead.

All along, Ueno, backed by mistake-free Japanese defense, piled up the outs. She exited after five shutout innings allowing just two hits and striking out five.

Relief pitcher Goto Miu worked into trouble in the sixth as the United States put runners on first and second. One of the wildest defensive plays in Olympic softball history got Japan out of the inning.

The U.S. did not put a runner aboard in the seventh as Ueno returned to close out the game. 

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