Maize's Kelsey Stewart is Team USA hero in Championship extra innings
The U.S. softball team accomplished everything it set out to do in Chiba, Japan, this week at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship. Team USA not only earned a place in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 but also defended its world title in the process with a 7-6 walk-off win over rival Japan in an extra-inning thriller.
This is the 11th world title for the Americans and first time winning back-to-back titles since 2006 and 2010. The last seven title games have been between the U.S. and Japan, with the U.S. now winning five.
By virtue of making the gold-medal game against Japan, who had already qualified for the Olympic Games as host, the U.S. was assured of a spot in Tokyo. But the Americans were no less hungry to defend their world title.
It was the second time these two countries had played in less than 24 hours. But after watching its rivals take the lead in the top of the 10th, the U.S. answered for the final time.
Trailing 6-4 coming into the bottom of the 10th, UCLA’s Delaney Spaulding singled to score Ali Aguilar (Washington ’17), who started the inning at second base per tournament rules, pulling the U.S. within one run.
Michelle Moultrie (Florida ’12) singled to put runners on the corners and Aubree Munro (Florida ’16) then doubled to left field with two outs to score Spaulding and tie the game and keep the U.S. alive. Kelsey Stewart’s (Florida ’16) first hit of the game proved to be a big one as her single to left field allowed Moultrie to score and start the celebration.
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Japan opened the scoring in this dramatic matchup when it took a 1-0 lead in the second. After an error by Spaulding put a runner on to lead off the inning, she scored on a single by Haruka Agatsuma off pitcher Keilani Ricketts (Oklahoma ’13) with one out.
Japan made it 2-0 in the third after Saki Yamazaki singled to left field with two out and then scored on a triple to right field by Yu Yamamoto.
The U.S. finally got on the board and grabbed the lead in the bottom of the inning after Haylie McCleney (Alabama ’16) led off with a single, Aguilar got on base with a single and all three scored when Spaulding hit a home run to right field to make it 3-2.
Kelly Barnhill (Florida ’19) took the mound in the fourth and Danielle O’Toole (Arizona ’17) pitched the fifth, but Japan tied the game in the sixth on a home run by Yamato Fujita. With the score still locked after seven, the game went to extra innings and Japan scored in the top of the eighth on a fielder’s choice.
The U.S. answered in the bottom of the inning to stay alive with Aguilar, who started at second, scoring on Moultrie’s single.
Monica Abbott took the mound and pitched a scoreless ninth inning, but the starting runner on second proved particularly costly when Japan’s Yamato Fujita hit a home run to lead off the 10th.
In the end, however, Japan’s 10th inning runs weren’t enough. The U.S. was able to cap off its world championship experience with a gold medal and a spot in the next Olympic Games.