SOFTBALL: U.S. tops Japan in a thrilling World Champs final

All along, the two teams that seemed destined to meet in the finals of the World Softball Championships in Chiba (JPN) were the hosts and the reigning World Champions from the United States.

That’s what happened and the final was another classic.

Japan put up single runs in the second and third off Keilani Rickets of the U.S., but shortstop Delaney Spauling put a Yukiko Ueno pitch over the fence for a three-run homer and a 3-2 lead.

Japan tied it in the sixth on a Yamato Fujita home run off of the fourth U.S. pitcher, Rachel Garcia. Neither side scored in the seventh and the game went into extra innings.

Starting the inning with a runner on second, both sides scored one run in the eighth and none in the ninth. With Monica Abbott pitching for the U.S., Fujita brought the crowd of more than 12,000 to their feet with a two-run homer for a 6-4 Japan lead.

Down two runs in the bottom of the 10th, Spaulding drove in the parked runner to cut the lead to 6-5 and right fielder Michelle Moultrie singled to put runners on first and third with none out. Catcher Aubree Munro hit a ground-rule double to left to tie the game and put runners on second and third.

That brought third baseman Kelsey Stewart – 0-4 for the day – to the plate. Ueno got to 0-2 on the lefty, but then Stewart went with an outside pitch and poked it down the left-field line for a single that sent Moultrie home and started the U.S. celebration after a 6-5, come-from-behind win.

The U.S. won its 11th title in the 16 editions of the Softball Worlds, which date back to 1965. Japan was second for the sixth time and either the U.S. (5) or Japan (2) have won the Worlds since 2002. By winning this year, the U.S. qualifies for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Canada finished third, eliminating Australia in its semifinal, 12-0, while the U.S. was playing Japan in the other semi. The U.S. won that game, 4-3, coming from 3-0 down to win in the bottom of the eighth inning. Because the U.S. and Japan as group winners had to be double-eliminated, Canada and Japan played for the right to meet the U.S.; Japan defeated Canada, 3-0, in that game.

The final standings:

1. United States, 10-0
2. Japan, 9-2
3. Canada, 8-3
4. Australia, 6-4
5. Puerto Rico, 6-3
6. Mexico, 6-3
7. Italy, 4-4
8. Netherlands, 3-5
9. Chinese Taipei, 6-4
10. China, 6-4
11. Great Britain, 3-6
12. Venezuela, 2-7
13. New Zealand, 2-6
14. Philippines, 2-6
15. South Africa, 0-8
16. Botswana, 0-8

Look for complete results here.