By Corbin Hosler
OKLAHOMA CITY — The United States showed on Sunday that it had some of the best players in the world on the squad when it squared off with Japan in the championship of the World Cup of Softball.
And Japan showed it had the best team in the world, taking a commanding lead early and never allowing the Americans to seriously threaten, winning 6-3.
It was the second time in as many days that they took control early against the United States on their way to a resounding victory. It was the first time since 2005, when Japan won in the first World Cup, that the United States had not won the event.
“We brought a pretty young team that had not a lot expected of them, so they were not very tight,” Japan coach Reika Utsugi said through a translator. “There was no pressure for us. I absolutely think we’ll be meeting each other again at the world championships next year.”
In Sunday’s game, the Japanese got on the board immediately when Yukiyo Mine hit a hard grounder to second base that Lauren Gibson grabbed on a diving stop but wasn’t able to make the throw in time. That hit scored Misato Kawano and put Japan on the board first.
It was just the beginning. After the United States put two runners in scoring position in the bottom of half of the inning before back-to-back strikeouts ended the threat, Japan took advantage, with some help from a questionable call.
The Japanese loaded the bases with two outs for Yuka Ichiguchi, who hit a short fly ball to left field. Rhea Taylor sprinted in for the ball and slid on her knees as she tried to make the catch. It appeared initially that she caught it, but the ball bounced off of her glove and toward third base, allowing two runners to score. As the ball rolled, third baseman Raven Chavanne picked it up and appeared to easily tag out the runner, but she was ruled safe at third and extended the inning.
That set up Yuki Hayachi, who followed up with a double to right field to score two more and push the lead to 5-0.
The United States added one in the bottom half of the inning as well as another in the third on a Gibson home run, but the Japanese nullified several American scoring opportunities throughout the game with a series of highlight-reel defensive plays to shut the door.
“They’re a good team, that’s for sure,” Gibson said. “Japan deserved to win. But we’re going to continue to improve. This is really only our second week together, if that, and we’re all getting used to playing with each other.”
The Americans would not have even been in the title game if not for a come-from-behind win over Puerto Rico in the day’s first game. Amber Freeman led the team back in what turned into a 10-3, run-rule victory after they fell behind 3-0 in the first inning.