LIMA, Peru – Relentless. Resilient. Gold Medalists. Just one day after falling to Canada 3-2 and needing to take two games to claim the Gold Medal, the USA Softball Women’s National Team (WNT) did just that and recorded the program’s ninth Pan American Games Gold Medal. Fighting through the Bronze Medal finale, Team USA defeated Puerto Rico 3-1 to set up a rematch with No. 3 Canada where the team soared to another 3-1 win for the Pan American Games Gold.
Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.) went the distance in the circle for Team USA, earning both wins with two complete-games under her belt while Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) and Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) lifted the offense in both wins.
“Monica Abbott put the team on her back today,” said WNT Head Coach, Ken Eriksen (Tampa, Fla./Head Coach at South Florida). “She threw 14 innings, two complete games…she was a bulldog. All her training, both her physical and mental training, paid off when it needed to today. I was very impressed with the maturity level of the team. We didn’t let the little things get to us. We might not have been the most comfortable at the plate. We might not have been the most comfortable coming through the Bronze Medal Game to capture the Gold, but the one thing we were was steady in our emotions. That bodes well.”
The U.S improved it’s overall Pan American Games record to 100-5 since it debuted in 1979 and avenged a Silver Medal finish at the hands of Canada at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games. In total, the U.S. has Gold Medals in 1979, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2019.
“We didn’t go crazy and dogpile after we won the Gold today,” Eriksen continued. “It’s not that we didn’t expect to win, we did expect to win. It’s not that we thought it was a surprise that we won and were over-celebratory. This is still a part of the climb of where we’re trying to go to in 2020, and this was a part of the journey.”
With the win, five athletes on the 2019 roster have multi-Pan American Games Gold Medals to their name. Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas) became a three-time Pan American Games Gold Medalist while Abbott, Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.), Moultrie and Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) each have two Pan American Games Gold Medals.
Southpaw Abbott earned her third and fourth wins of the Pan American Games, allowing just two runs to cross the plate through 14 innings of work while striking out 21 batters. She tallied a tournament-leading 48 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched over the week with a 0.75 ERA.
“It was great to see us come out and win the Gold,” said Abbott. “We knew we had to come out and beat Puerto Rico, which we knew was going to be a tough game. That was our path to get a chance for the Gold again against Canada, who gave us a tough time yesterday. I’m really just proud of this team and how we came together, both offensively and defensively, and made plays when we needed to.”
Bronze Medal Game: USA 3, Puerto Rico 1
The WNT earned a spot in the Gold Medal contest of the Pan American Games with a 3-1 win over Puerto Rico in the Bronze Medal game. After Puerto Rico got on top early with a solo home run in the top of the second inning, the U.S. responded with a pair of their own to take the lead and never look back.
Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.) started the offense for Team USA in the bottom of the second with a leadoff double and advanced to third on a single from Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.). Merritt stole second, but a strikeout kept the runners at bay until Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) singled to plate the two runs and give the Red, White and Blue a one-run lead.
The 2-1 score held until the bottom of the fourth inning when Merritt was hit by a pitch with one out to gave the U.S. a base runner. An intentional walk to Munro put two on for Janie Reed (Placentia, Calif.), who singled to bring Merritt in and make it a 3-1 ballgame.
The two-run lead proved to be enough as the score held through the remainder of the game. Offensively, Merritt reached base in each appearance at the plate while scoring twice with Munro picking up two RBI and Reed driving in one. Abbott limited Puerto Rico to just three hits in seven innings while striking out 11.
Gold Medal Game: USA 3, Canada 1
After earning their spot in the Gold Medal Game, the U.S. and Canada battled it out through seven complete innings but it was Team USA who walked away with a 3-1 win over their neighbors to the north. With the game tied up at one run apiece through five and a half innings of play, Team USA used a two-run sixth inning to take the lead to claim the 2019 Pan American Games Gold.
Abbott had another strong showing in the circle, limiting Canada to just four hits and one run through seven innings. At the plate, Moultrie’s bat came alive as the Team USA veteran had a home run in the second inning and game-winning RBI in the bottom of the sixth.
Abbott and Canada’s defense kept the game scoreless through the first three at-bats of the game until Moultrie blasted a solo home run with two outs on her first pitch of the game to give Team USA an early 1-0 lead. Garcia reached on a dropped fly ball to left field to put another on for the U.S., but deep fly ball was caught for the third out of the inning.
Team USA looked to add to the lead in the bottom of the third inning after Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) led off by reaching on a dropped third strike and a misplayed sac bunt by Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) put two on with no outs. A sac bunt by Reed advanced the runners, but a foul tip was caught for the second out and a pop up kept the U.S. from capitalizing.
Canada tied up the ballgame in the top of the fourth inning with a solo home run with two outs and threatened again in the top of the fifth. A leadoff single and hit batter put two on with one out, but a diving play by McCleney in centerfield kept the runners at bay. A heads up play by Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) to tag the runner going to second base on a ball up the middle got the U.S. out of the inning unscathed.
Team USA looked to score in the bottom of the fame after Stewart singled and McCleney walked, but a groundout and strikeout kept it a tied ballgame.
The tie didn’t last long as the U.S. strung together hits to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Arioto and Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) hit back-to-back singles to put two on for Moultrie, who singled with a fly ball to right field to drive in a run and give Team USA a one run lead.
“It was great that Val and Delaney got our offense started by getting on base before me to give our team a chance to get a run,” said Moultrie. “Coach Eriksen gave me the hit away sign, so I just went up there swinging.”
Two strikeouts kept runners at first and second base until Stewart reached on an infield single to shortstop. The first basemen mishandled the throw, allowing Spaulding to safely score on the play and put the WNT up by two and three outs away from the win.
Canada made the game interesting in the top of the seventh with a leadoff single, but a strikeout from Abbott and fly ball quickly recorded two outs. An infield single continued the momentum for Canada, but Abbott fired in a strikeout for the last out of the game to give Team USA the 3-1 win.
Moultrie and Spaulding each had 2-for-3 outings at the plate in the win with Moultrie driving in two runs. Abbott struck out 10 batters in her second outing of the day in the circle, allowing just four hits through seven innings.
“Aubree came out a couple of times [to the circle] and she told me she believed in me and that the team was here for me,” said Abbott when asked how she bore down during her two outings in the circle in one day. “She was pumping confidence into me and I just tried to pitch with that heart and passion that she was giving to me.”
Team USA led the Pan American Games in nearly every statistical category. As a team, the squad hit .311 throughout the week, outscoring opponents 45-6. The pitching staff combined for a 0.81 ERA, striking out 87 batters and capturing four shutout wins.
Abbott led the tournament with a 4-0 record and 48 strikeouts in 28 innings of work. McCleney had a monstrous week at the plate, leading all batters with a .609 (14-for-23) batting average, a 1.043 slugging percentage and nine runs scored. McCleney also finished tied atop the leaderboard with Spaulding in home runs with three each while Spaulding’s 11 RBI led the tournament. Merritt also finished with a tournament-leading three stolen bases.
The WNT will take a 10-day break before reuniting at the Marine Corp Air Station (MCAS) in Iwakuni, Japan for training prior to the 2019 Japan Cup. The annual event will take place August 30-September 1 in Takasaki City, Japan where Team USA will compete alongside No. 2 Japan, No. 6 Chinese Taipei and No. 15 Czech Republic.
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 fast pitch, 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 are 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 six USA Softball National Teams 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.