OKLAHOMA CITY — Japan’s team experience again proved too much for a United States squad that just came together days before the eighth World Cup of Softball.
Yuki Hayashi went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Japan beat the U.S. 6-3 on Sunday night to win the gold medal in the World Cup, ending the long reign of the Americans in the international event.
Yuka Ichiguchi tripled and had two RBIs for Japan, which beat the U.S. for the second time in as many days and extended its winning streak over the Americans to three games.
Japan also beat the U.S. in the gold-medal game of last year’s World Championships.
“My message to the team was that they’re better right now,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said of Japan. “Right now, they are better. You saw the benefits of being able to train together for months and months and months. You saw the deficiencies of Team USA, with the inability to train for months and months and have five days to get together.
The six runs surrendered by the U.S. matched the second-most it had ever allowed in a major international tournament. Japan beat the U.S. 7-4 on Saturday to set that record.
The U.S. had won the last six World Cups since Japan took the inaugural event in 2005. That also was the last time the U.S. lost twice in the World Cup. The U.S. now is 42-6 all-time in the event.
Misato Kawano singled leading off in the first and scored on an infield single by Yukiyo Mine.
Michelle Moultrie walked and Lauren Gibson reached on an error in the bottom of the first and were in scoring position with one out, but Okamura struck out Amanda Chidester and coaxed a popup from Valerie Arioto to end the threat.
Japan blew the game open in the second against U.S. starter Jessica Moore (1-1). Natsuka Ono singled with one out and Nozomi Shimasaki followed with a bunt single. One out later, Moore intentionally walked Kawano to load the bases. Ichiguchi followed with a popup to short left field that hit the glove of the hard-charging Chidester but fell to the ground, allowing two runs to score.
Hayashi followed with a sharp single to right field and two more runs scored, making it 5-0.
“We made a bad play that let a bunch of runs in,” Eriksen said. “That’s an easy play. We made the right pitch, we had the right kid at the plate, did the right things by walking who we did, then we drop an easy popup. If you don’t drop an easy popup, we may give up two (runs).”
Through an interpreter, Japan coach Reika Utsagi said her team was young and didn’t feel much pressure to win.
“Even though we knew they would be another pitcher today, our strategy was the same,” Utsagi said. “It was to put the bat on the ball and make something happen, both yesterday and today. That’s what I think we did very well.”
Kourtney Salvarola singled and scored on a single by Moultrie in the bottom of the second and Gibson smacked a solo home run to right-center field in the third off Japan reliever Kana Nakano (2-0) to pull the U.S. within 5-2.
But Japan answered in the fifth. Ichiguchi’s shot to right field off reliever Sara Nevins eluded the diving Taylor Hoagland, resulting in a stand-up triple. Ichiguchi scored on a single by Hayashi.
“It felt like when we got a run or two, they’d come back and get a few runs,” Gibson said. “They put the ball in play and execute when they have to.”
With two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth, Japan left fielder Sonoka Kuniyoshi misplayed a long fly ball by Arioto but recovered to make a basket catch at the wall. Arioto’s two-out double to right field in the seventh scored Chidester, who had singled, but Hoagland popped up to Nakano to end the game.
The U.S. left nine runners on base, including two each in the first, second, fifth and sixth innings.
“We had more opportunities that we didn’t drive in runners tonight in crucial situations,” Eriksen said.
The U.S. advanced to the gold-medal game with a 10-3, five-inning win over Puerto Rico. Amber Freeman hit a pair of two-run home runs, in the third to left-center field and in the fifth to right-center field.
On her second homer, she made an awkward turn at first base and injured her right ankle. She slowed and began walking slowly before being assisted around the bases the rest of the way by Puerto Rico shortstop Galis Lozada and third baseman Dayanira Diaz, resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
With teammate Aleimalee Lopez translating, Lozada said after the game that she and Diaz assisted Freeman because it was the right thing to do.
“We only wanted to help her, because it was a home run and she deserved it,” Lozada said. “I hope that if something like that happened to us, that they would have done the same thing in return.
“It’s a sport. You just have to respect every athlete.”
Freeman said she appreciated the help.
“That was very sweet of them,” she said. “I’m very thankful, because I didn’t know if I could make it around the bases. My ankle hurt that bad. As soon as we got to home plate, I thanked them multiple times. It shows people the sportsmanship we have in this sport.”
Eriksen called the scene one of the highlights of his coaching career.
“I was fighting back tears over here, to tell you the truth,” he said. “That’s just an incredible aspect of why these games need to be back in (the Olympics in) 2020. That’s sportsmanship that’s we’ve always had. . You have great representatives of every country.
“Watching something like that go on … Wow!”
In the bronze-medal game, Australia beat Canada 4-3 in eight innings.
By MURRAY EVANS