Takasaki City, Japan — A solo home run by Kelly Kretschman (Indian Harbour, Fla.) in the top of the first inning set the tone for one of the softball world’s greatest rivalries as Team USA notched a 9-4 win over Japan in preliminary rounds at the 2018 Japan Cup. Using an experienced pitching staff and timely hitting, the U.S. was led by Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.), who had a 2-for-3 showing at the plate with four of the nine total RBI for the Red, White, and Blue.
Kretschman started the game off with a bang, blasting a solo home run over the center field fence in her first at-bat of the game to put Team USA up 1-0. Stewart tacked on to the lead in the top of the second inning, driving in Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) with a double to center field to make it a two-run lead for the Red, White, and Blue.
Japan responded with a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to cut the lead in half. A pair of walks in that same inning looked to spark a rally by the home team, but Munro got the U.S. out of the jam by throwing out a runner on a steal attempt to third base to keep the 2-1 lead.
A pair of strikeouts and groundout in the top of the fourth inning brought Japan back to the plate where they tied up the game after a leadoff double and sac fly plated a run. With the game tied up at two runs apiece, Japan looked to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth after a leadoff walk. Carley Hoover (Clemson, S.C.), who entered the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, quickly recorded two strikeouts to keep the runner at bay. A single and hit batter loaded the bases with two outs, but Hoover picked up her third strikeout of the inning to squash the two-out rally attempt.
Team USA took advantage of back-to-back hit batters and a walk in the top of the sixth to load the bases with two outs. Taylor Edwards (Murietta, Calif.) delivered with a single to right field, plating two and regaining a two-run lead for the U.S. Japan once again cut the lead to one run in the bottom half of the inning with an RBI single.
Leading the game 4-3, the U.S. broke the game open in their final at-bat of the contest. Kretschman reached on an error and was lifted for a pinch-runner as Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) entered the game. Merritt advanced to second after Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) was hit by a pitch and a sac bunt from Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) put both runners in scoring position. Merritt recorded the second out of the at-bat after attempting to go home on a sharply hit ground ball from Hannah Flippen (San Diego, Calif.), but that did not halt the U.S. offense as Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) drove a ball through the right side of the infield to plate two.
A walk to Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) loaded the bases for Edwards, who drove in another run on an infield ground ball. Stewart picked up another two RBI with a fly ball to left field, making it 9-3 in favor of Team USA heading into the bottom of the seventh.
A leadoff triple and RBI single was all the offense Japan could muster in their final at-bat as Team USA earned the 9-4 win.
In addition to Stewart, Edwards had a multi-RBI performance by driving in three runs for the U.S. From the circle, Ally Carda (Elk Grove, Calif.) got the start in the circle and tossed two and one-third scoreless innings, fanning two while walking one and allowing just one hit. Jessica Moore (Sutter, Calif.) allowed two runs, two walks, and two hits in one inning of work, Danielle O’Toole (Upland, Calif.) struck out two with one earned run and three hits and Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) struck out one with one run allowed in one inning. Hoover earned the win for the U.S., tossing two scoreless innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two hits allowed.
Team USA will once again square off with rival Japan for the Japan Cup title, which is slated for 4 p.m. JST (2 a.m. CT).
About USA Softball
USA Softball is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., and is designated as the National Governing Body (NGB) of Softball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. One of the nation’s largest sports organizations, USA Softball sanctions competition through a network of Local Associations, which includes all 50 states and select metro associations, and has grown from a few hundred teams in the early days to over 150,000 teams today, representing a membership of more than 2 million. USA Softball is dedicated to providing people of all ages the opportunity to play the game they love at a variety of levels by offering recreational, league, tournament and competitive play for fastpitch, slow pitch and modified pitch. USA Softball annually conducts thousands of tournaments throughout the country including over 100 National Championships. The USA Softball umpire program is among the nation’s largest and is widely known as the best-trained umpires in the game.
As the NGB for the sport of softball, USA Softball is responsible for training, equipping and promoting the USA Softball National Team programs that compete in events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games, World Championships and other international and domestic events. For more information on USA Softball, including its founding and history as the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), please visit, www.USASoftball.com