USA crushes Japan to win Junior Worlds

Sun 30 Jul 2017

By Bob Fromer

Clearwater, Florida, USA: 30 July – It was the inevitable final today between the USA and Japan at the 2017 WBSC Junior Women’s Fastpitch World Championship, and in a reverse of the result two years ago in Oklahoma, the US had too much firepower and won going away by a score of 13-4.

US players blasted three titanic home runs in the final to score eight of their 13 runs, including two fence-clearing shots in a five-run top of the fifth inning outburst that effectively decided the game. 

The US had 17 hits in seven innings off three different Japanese pitchers, and while Japan matched the US early in the game and even led 4-3 after four innings had been played, they had no answer to American power over the last three innings, when the US scored 10 unanswered runs.


Getting to the final

Here’s a summary of how we got to the US v Japan final over the last three days of the Junior World Championship, concentrating at this point on the top teams only.

Eight teams went through from four first round pools to contest the Championship Double Page Playoff.

Four group winners went through with two lives in the Page Playoff – they could lose a game and still survive.  These were the United States, Japan, Puerto Rico and Canada.

The four teams that finished second in the pool groups had only one life in the Double Page Playoff -- lose and they were done.  These were Chinese Taipei, Australia, the Czech Republic and China.

In the first round of games on Friday, the second-place teams played each other.  China eliminated Australia by a score of 2-0 and Chinese Taipei eliminated the Czech Republic in a 7-6 thriller.

Then the first-place teams played each other.  Japan came from behind to defeat Canada 8-7 while the US overcame Puerto Rico 8-3.

On Saturday, second place winners played first place losers, and Canada eliminated Chinese Taipei by 8-1 while Puerto Rico ended China’s tournament by a score of 7-0.

Then first place winners played each other, and the USA defeated Japan 4-1, followed by a first-place losers’ game between Canada and Puerto Rico, which Puerto Rico hung on to win 6-5, and so Canada finished fourth.

Canada will think themselves unlucky, however, after they loaded the bases with no one out in the sixth inning, trailing by that one run, only to see the Puerto Rican third base player somehow snare a viciously-hit line drive at her head and turn it into a disputed double play.

All of that set up today’s two games: the bronze medal game between Japan and Puerto Rico, with the winner going on to play the USA in the final.

Originally, these games had been scheduled for the afternoon, but given a really scary weather forecast, the very wise decision was made to bring them forward to the morning, with the bronze medal game starting at 9.30 and the final at 11.30.

And just after the final and the medal ceremony concluded, enough rain came down to float an Ark.

Japan v Puerto Rico​

This was an entertaining game where the best of Japanese softball was on display, and Japan toyed with Puerto Rico, scoring in five of the seven innings during a 7-2 win.

Japanese pitcher Kiyomi Ito pitched six innings, and looked like a heroine from a Japanese Manga film, with a strand of black hair constantly loose across her right eye, a constant smile on her face, and a wicked change-up -- and, for variation, a change curve -- that froze Puerto Rican hitters time after time.

Ito set Puerto Rico down in order and with ease in the first four innings, while the Japanese fielders, as they always do, played quick and athletic defense behind her.

The bottom of the fifth inning was an anomaly: with one out, the next four Puerto Rican hitters suddenly teed off on Ito.  Jaime Hoover blasted a long home run to left centre field, Kayla Garcia singled to centre, Odalys Cordoba doubled to right centre and Francesca Corraca singled to left.  All of that produced two runs and cut Japan’s lead at the time to 5-2.

But Ito kept smiling, got the last two outs, retired Puerto Rico in order again in the sixth and watched as Chisora Mihara pitched a perfect seventh inning in relief. 

Kiyomi Ito was not to fare so well later against the USA, but in this game she was huge fun to watch and very close to perfect.

Meanwhile, the Japanese offense did what they do – infield singles on bunts, pushes and balls chopped into the dirt, mixed with singles up the middle and the odd line drive to an outfield gap, and all of this executed at tremendous speed.  The Puerto Rican defense was constantly chasing shadows as Japan scored one run in the first inning, two in the second, one each in the fourth and fifth and a final two in the sixth.

Long before this game was over, the US v Japan final was a sure thing.

USA v Japan​

When these two teams meet, as they have done in Olympic and World Championship finals for a very long time, it’s always a contest between power and speed.  Since they wrested the Olympic title from the US at softball’s last Olympics in Beijing in 2008, the Japanese have prevailed more often than not at Senior and Junior World Championships.

But this time power was the emphatic winner over speed and finesse, and the Japanese fell away as the game progressed.

The first inning was a microcosm of the larger struggle.

Japan opened with pitcher Sakura Miwa, who clearly worships at the shrine of Japan’s all-time great pitcher Yukiko Ueno.  Miwa is built like Ueno, wears the same uniform number (17) and has the same pitching delivery.

But not the same results.  She walked Hannah Adams to open the game, gave up an infield single to Nicole Bates, and then had to face probably the scariest hitter in the tournament, Madilyn Nickles, who hit a towering shot over the fence in left centre field that might have got out of some Major League ball parks.

How scary was Madilyn Nickles?  She broke three Junior Women's world records at this tournament, including most home runs (6), most RBIs (30) and highest overall batting average (20-for-29, an average of .690).

Sakura Miwa settled down and got the next three hitters, but the US had a 3-0 lead.

But Japan started right in hassling the US with speed in the bottom of the first inning.  Urara Fujimoto chopped a single off the glove of US starter Holly Azevedo, and then Azevedo panicked on a little ground ball back to her by Ayumi Shimomura, and couldn’t find the handle.  Reina Matsumoto lined out to first base, but then Eri Shimoyama punched a line drive double to left centre field to bring in two runs and she scored on a single just inside the first base bag by catcher Hiroyo Hattori.  At the end of one inning, the score was 3-3.

In the bottom of the second inning, Japan got another run on an infield chop single, a walk, a stolen base, a wild pitch and single punched through the middle by Reina Matsumoto.

After that, both teams had plenty of baserunners, but the score stayed at 4-3 to Japan until the US came to bat in the top of the fifth inning, with Sakura Miwa still in the circle.  The US had changed pitchers after the second inning, bringing in Natalie Lugo, who pitched the rest of the game, did not allow a run, and got the win.

Hannah Adams led off the top of the fifth inning with a single up the middle and was sacrificed to second by Nicole Bates.  That brought up Madilyn Nickles, who already had a home run and a double in two at-bats, and Sakura Miwa and catcher Hiroyo Hattori pitched her beautifully: a strike low and away, a change-up for strike two, another pitch low and away for a ball, and then a rise ball that Nickles could only hit to centre fielder Miyu Miyamoto.

But having got past Nickles, the Japanese relaxed, and the result was disaster.  The next batter, Baylee Klingler, blasted a long home run over the fence in right-centre field.  Alexis Allan singled.  Jessica Harper reached on an infield hit, and then Alissa Dalton pulled a pitch high and far down the right field line and out of the stadium.

Suddenly, five runs were in, the US led 8-4, and Japan had no answers.

The rest of the game was all the United States, as their supporters chanted “USA, USA” in the stands.

Kiyomi Ito, who had beaten Puerto Rico earlier in the day, came in to pitch the top of the sixth inning, but the US put up two runs on three hits.

In the top of the seventh inning, Chisora Mihara came to the circle and gave up a hit, a walk and hit a batter.  The Japanese coaches then brought back the starter, Sakura Miwa, and she gave up three straight hits and three runs before the Japanese brought the carnage to an end with a double play.

There was a bit of Japanese resistance – singles by Urara Fujimoto and Ayumi Shimomura -- to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning.  But three outs followed, as did the US celebrations.

Elsewhere…​

As described in reports on this website over the past week, the GB Under-19 Women’s Team finished fourth in Pool D in the opening round of the tournament with wins over Korea and Ireland and competitive losses to China, Canada and Mexico in what was undoubtedly the toughest of the four round-robin groups.

In the Placing Double Page Playoff to determine places 9-16, GB lost 2-0 to the Netherlands on Friday, which ended their tournament with a 15th place finish.  The team played well, with pitchers Georgina Corrick, Beth Fleming and Kyra Watson containing the opposition, and the team was in every game played, holding leads over Canada and China. 

But GB couldn’t muster enough offense, and lack of preparation time after rain cancelled most of the team’s pre-tournament scrimmage games occasionally showed up on defense at crucial times.

Ireland, attending a Junior World Championship for the first time, did well, beating Korea in Pool D and then Israel and Peru in the playoffs to get all the way to the final of the placing competition to determine places 17-26.  Unfortunately, missing their best pitcher, Ireland lost 14-1 to Korea in the final and finished 18th, but the results here will be good for their developing fastpitch programme.

The highest-placed European team in the tournament was the Czech Republic, who got through to the Championship Playoff round from the easiest of the four first-round groups, and finished eighth.  The Netherlands and Italy, who each won a game in the 9-16 playoffs, finished behind the Czechs but ahead of GB.

Mexico, another team in GB’s opening round group, won the final of the Double Page Playoff to determine places 9-16, defeating the Philippines 5-3, and finished ninth.


Final standings​

The final standings for the 2017 Junior Women’s World Championship are as follows:

1 -- USA
2 -- Japan
3 -- Puerto Rico
4 -- Canada
5 -- Chinese Taipei
6 -- China
7 -- Australia
8 -- Czech Republic
9 -- Mexico
10 -- Philippines
11 - Dominican Republic
12 -- Italy
13 -- Brazil
14 -- Netherlands
15 -- Great Britain
16 --New Zealand
17 -- Korea
18 -- Ireland
19 -- Peru
20 -- Argentina
21 -- Guatemala
22 -- India
23 -- South Africa
24 -- Bahamas
25 -- Turkey
26 -- Israel

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