Tarni Stepto Aussie Spirit Softball Olympics Tokyo 2020 USA

Tarni Stepto pitched for the Aussie Spirit in an extra-innings 1-2 loss to the USA. (Photo: WBSC -Twitter)

Unable to be decided after seven innings, the Aussie Spirit took the USA to extra innings although came away with a 1-2 loss.

Unable to be decided after seven innings, the Aussie Spirit took the USA to extra innings although came away with a 1-2 loss. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

The Aussie Spirit took the undefeated USA to extra innings after a gruelling pitchers duel between Tarni Stepto and Monica Abbott that was mostly dominated by the American. With neither side finding a run within the regulation seven innings, both teams scored in the eighth although it would be the USA who walked it off in the bottom half.

Belinda White was the first to plate a run for the Aussie Spirit, scoring on a walk at the top half of the eighth but a well-struck ball that cleared the infield from the USA’s Amanda Chidester allowed two teammates to score in the bottom.

The moment gave the world number one team its fourth win of the tournament all but securing a place in the gold medal match while Australia still has plenty to play for despite this loss that takes them to a 1-3 record, not out of medal contention just yet.

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Coming up against USA’s starter Abbott, Leigh Godfrey and Taylah Tsitsikronis each struck out either side of a Stacey Porter flyout to centrefield at the top of the first inning.

USA’s lead-off batter Haylie McCleney connected on the first pitch she saw with a deep hit into rightfield, away from upright, outstretched hand of Godfrey, for a stand-up triple. The Australians kept the leading runner at third when Janie Reed grounded out and got McCleny out on a fielder’s choice when she ran on contact before the Spirit claimed the final out.

Chelsea Forkin hit a lead-off single into rightfield to start the second innings, although the next three batters would go down in order, Abbott adding another two strikeouts to her statline.

After the first two hitters went down to begin the bottom half of the second innings, Bubba Nickles sent a two-out linedrive up the third base side, held only to a single. Stepto got Kelsey Stewart to strikeout swinging for the final out of the inning.

Leah Parry made it safely to first on a short hit that landed just in front of her, advancing on a White sacrifice bunt. Parry was held up at second when Godfrey grounded out before Porter was walked intentionally though Tsitsikronis struckout swinging, leaving two runners stranded on base.

The Spirit had the Americans lead-off grounding out in their half of the innings although the next two batters were walked and singled, respectively. Australia got out of the jam with a double play, sending the USA back into the field.

As the Spirit entered their fourth turn with the bats, Abbott delivered three consecutive strikeouts to Forkin, Jade Wall and Stepto, the latter two caught looking on pitches falling to the outside half of the plate. It was a three-up, three-down bottom half for the USA also.

Two pop-ups saw Clare Warwick and Parry retired as White was Abbott’s ninth strikeout of the game, and the final out of the Spirit’s fifth inning.

Despite a walk to American Nickles, the next two hitters each grounded out before McCleney was intentionally walked as well although McCleney would be tagged out running towards second base.

Godfrey hit another lead-off single to begin the sixth frame, and advanced into a scoring position with Porter delivered a base on balls. Tsitsikronis popped up in foul territory for the first out of the inning, before Forkin became the second casualty with a pop up just beyond first base.

Wall received a base on balls to load the base for the Spirit, coach Laing Harrow electing to bring in Michelle Cox to pinch-hit and after a gruelling affair in the batting box, Cox struck out swinging.

Chidester struck out as the lead-off for the USA and it was quickly two out as Valerie Arioto grounded out. Ali Aguilar was walked but caught stealing for the final out of the sixth inning.

Australia elected to bring in Stacey McManus to pinch-hit at the start of the seventh inning although she grounded out to second base. Parry popped up in foul territory once more and a White strikeout ended things there for the Aussies, sending the USA in to bat for a potential walk-off win inside seven.

Delaney Spaulding earned a base on balls to put the winning run on base although tight defence from Australia prevented her for advancing at any point, as the following three batters were all sat back down, sending the game to extra innings.

White was the runner to start on second base for the tiebreaker eighth inning, making her way to third on a sacrifice bunt from Godfrey. The Spirit had runners on the corners as Porter was intentionally walked again, and a walk Tsitsikronis’ way saw them in a bases loaded situation.

Australia was down two outs when Forkin struck out swinging but a bases-loaded walk to Wall saw the team’s first run, and the game’s first run when White stamped her foot on the home plate. Stepto struck out looking to end the top half of the eighth, Australia knowing what it would take to get the win.

Ally Carda entered the game to pinch-run, starting on second base in the USA’s half of the tiebreaker innings and was held up there as Australia tried to play first to get McCleney. The throw took Tsitiskronis away from the bag though as McCleney reached base safely.

Reed laid down a sacrifice bunt for the USA as both runners were then put in scoring positions to win the game. Chidester was the next up for the USA, and on the first pitch she saw from Stepto, skirted the ball past McManus at shortstop and into leftfield as Carda and McCleney each crossed home plate, securing the USA win.

The winning pitcher Abbott went the distance across eight innings for the USA, giving up three hits and six walks for one run while putting down 13 Australian hitters via a strikeout.

McCleney collected two hits for the USA, scoring a run also whereas Chidester delievered the game-winning RBI, her only hit of the game with Carda scoring too.

Stepto went 7.1 innings in the middle as Australia’s pitcher, giving up five hits and five walks for two runs (one earned), along with three strikeouts, credited with the loss.

The Spirit found hits through Godfrey, Forkin and Parry with White their lone scorer in the matchup.

With four games complete in the five-game round-robin structure at Tokyo 2020, the Aussie Spirit are still clinging onto fourth place that would put them in the bronze medal game. Their last remaining game is the final game of the regular Olympic fixture, against Mexico at 9pm AEST on July 26.

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