Canada became today the fifth qualified nation for the Olympic Games softball competition in Tokyo 2020. The host team secured its ticket with a 7-0, five-innings win over Brazil. Kaleigh Rafter belted a walk-off home run to center field in the bottom fo the fifth episode and sent Canada to its fifth Olympic Games.
Canada scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the second inning. With one out and a runner in first base, Larissa Franklin sent a line drive to the right-field fence for a run-scoring triple, putting Canada ahead in the score.
One inning later Canada rallied for five runs and secured the game. The host team loaded the bases with a bunt single by Victoria Hayward and base on balls to Kelsey Jenkins and Jennifer Gilbert. Brazil forced the first two outs at home plate on two grounders to third and second base, however, they couldn’t avoid the damage. Kaleigh Rafter hit a strong grounder to third base, Mayra Akamine made a spectacular diving catch but couldn’t retire any runner; and Franklin plated-in two more runs with a single to right field. Then Emma Entzminger hit a grounder to second base, Samira Tanaka made another incredible diving stop, but the Entzminger beat the throw at first, producing the fifth run. Finally, Joey Lye cashed-in the sixth Canadian run with another single to right field.
And in the bottom of the fifth episode, Beijing 2008 Olympian Kaleigh Rafter sealed the ticked to Tokyo with a walk-off home run to center field to clinch the game.
“I was just thinking of stay inside the ball. I had the feeling that she would want to go with the rise ball, so staying on top of that… It’s just a bit funny she throws a changeup and I saw it coming so I tried to stay inside the best way I could,” said Kaleigh Rafter. “It’s been a long journey, a growing journey, I’m just excited for the teammates”.
Asked about playing with the National Team for such a long time, Rafter said: “I love this country, I love softball, I love playing for this team… It’s been a part of me since I first tried out at 19 years old. It’s everything, it’s kind of who I am now”.
“The reality is that for most of the players it probably will be the only opportunity to go to the Olympics, so I think it’s especially sweet for them. And for the older ones is the chance to go back and make right the experience they had 12 years ago, that didn’t go the way they hoped,” said Canada Head Coach Mark Smith. “I know how hard they’ve worked, I know the time they’ve put in, and I know the personal sacrifices they’ve made.
“We have proved ourselves to be legitimately one of the top powers in the world. And our stats this week proved that: we have given up only two runs in the tournament, and that two runs cost us a ballgame, but when you look at our stats offensively, defensively; they have proven that they are as good as anybody in the world.”
Canada will participate in their fifth Olympic Games next year, along with Japan (host), USA (World Champion 2018), Italy (Europe/Africa Qualifier) and Mexico (Americas Qualifier). The sixth team in Tokyo 2020 will be the winner of the WBSC Asia/Oceania Qualifier, to be held in Shanghai, China, from 24-28 September.