Australia has gone down to Japan 8-1 in five innings to complete the opening game of softball competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.
The long ball helped the Beijing 2008 gold medal-winning defending champions Japan to the win against the Aussie Spirit, the host nation hitting a two-run home run in three consecutive innings during the latter stages of the game.
For the Aussie Spirit, it was a case of leaving too many runners on base, the team getting into multiple scenarios where the bases were loaded, however, the side couldn’t capitalise and advance those runners and extend their score.
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The Aussie Spirit was the first team to get on the board at the top of the first inning when the bases were loaded, Michelle Cox scoring on a Chelsea Forkin hit by pitch. Though that’s where the Australians’ scoring ended for the inning, and ultimately, the game.
In the bottom half of the first inning, Japan tied the scores when Minora Naito, on a Yu Yamamoto single to right field scored on an obstruction call at home plate.
After a scoreless three-up, three-down second inning from both sides, the score remained locked at one-all heading into the third inning.
Taylah Tsitsikronis hit a two-out single into centre field to keep Australia’s third innings going after Leigh Godfrey and Stacey Porter each struck out looking. However, Tsitsikronis wouldn’t advance as Forkin too struck out looking to be the third out.
The bottom of the third was where things started to get shaky for the Spirit, a throwing error from second base Stacey McManus attempting to get an out at first allowed Nodoka Harada to reach second on the pass ball. It was a costly error as with two outs, Naito made good contact on a Kaia Parnaby pitch to see the ball sail over the centrefield fence and give Japan a 3-1 lead.
The Spirit again returned to the field as quickly as they’d gone back into the dugout, forced to endure another three-up, three-down inning for their hitters at the top of the fourth.
Japan’s fourth inning started with another fielding error by the Spirit, this time by first base Forkin that allowed lead-off hitter Saki Yamazaki to reach base. The error affected the Spirit yet again when Yamato Fujita got a hold of a pitch that flew into leftfield and over the fence for another two-run shot.
A single to Eri Yamada gave Spirit coach Laing Harrow no choice but to relieve Parnaby of her pitching duties, opting to bring Tarni Stepto onto the mound.
The Japanese got to a position where it had runners on the corners and through a Harada, sacrifice fly out into centrefield, it gave Yamada enough space to score Japan’s third run of the inning before the final out was recorded one batter later.
At the top of the fifth, it was Australia’s chance to claw its way back. The Spirit found themselves in another bases-loaded situation through walks to Cox and Tsitsikronis and a Porter hit by pitch though made it difficult for Forkin with two outs. Forkin struck out looking for the final out, leaving runners stranded as the Aussies looked to keep their game alive going into the bottom of the fifth.
Stepto delivered a walk to lead-off former home-run hitter Naito, though that came back to hurt the Spirit as Yamamoto secured the victory with a two-run blast that cleared the centrefield fence.
Japanese starting pitcher Yukiko Ueno picked up the win after pitching 4.1 innings for one run on two hits with seven strikeouts. Parnaby was credited with the loss after pitching 3.0 innings, giving up six runs (two earned) from four hits.
Cox and Tsitskronis were the only two Spirit members to register a hit in the five-inning game with the former scoring the side’s lone run. Yamamoto was Japan’s only multiple-hitter with two with singles to five other players whereas Naito scored three of Japan’s eight runs.