The aces were out in full force to open the Olympics, with all six softball teams in Tokyo throwing their best pitcher to try to start the Games on the right foot.
Japan 8, Australia 1
United States 2, Italy 0
Canada 4, Mexico 0
Condensed game recaps of all three matchups follow…
AUSTRALIA VS. JAPAN
For Japan, that meant Yukiko Ueno in the circle. Facing Australia, Ueno struggled in the first inning, taking some extra time to get settled and giving up a hit and three free passes in the opening frame. After four of the first five batters reached base, Ueno held the Aussies to one run and never gave up another.
After the busy first inning, Ueno only allowed two base runners and collected six strikeouts in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th combined. With a hearty lead, Ueno departed the game after giving up a 1-out walk in the fifth inning and Miu Goto entered the game in relief.
Japan’s offense really started clicking in the third inning, with Minori Naito’s 2-run home run breaking a 1-1 tie at that point. One inning later, the Japanese broke the game open with a 2-run home run by Yamato Fujita and a sacrifice fly by Nodoka Harada.
Yu Yamamoto’s 2-run home run in the fifth inning made the score 8-1 in favor of Japan and clinched the run-rule for the Japanese; international rules allow for a run-rule end if a team has a seven-run lead after five innings of play.
ITALY VS. UNITED STATES
Team USA and the European champions Italy opened their Olympics against one another; the US sent Cat Osterman to the circle, and it’s a good thing they did.
Osterman dominated the Italian offense, not giving up a hit until the fifth inning and striking out seven in 6.0 innings of work. Osterman threw twelve first-pitch strikes to twenty-one batters, and she was the victim of a squeezed strike zone on at least half of the remaining batters.
Italy’s Greta Cecchetti was solid in the circle in her own right and did not give up a hit to the US offense until the fourth inning. Cecchetti held the US bats in check, stranding runners on base in the first, second, and fourth innings. Alexis Lacatena – a University of Kentucky commit who has never seen a day of college softball – entered the game in relief of Cecchetti in the circle, collected the Italians’ first strikeout in the bottom of the fifth, and held the US in check the rest of the way.
The television broadcast continually referred to nerves in the US offense, and while that seems simply like a justification for bad play, one thing is sure: The US offense was in bad, bad form in their opening game. The US team only lifted one ball in the air to the outfield against Cecchetti, recorded only one RBI hit with runners in scoring position, and swung at a lot of first pitches, often resulting in easy outs.
Small ball was the one thing that Team USA did do well in the game, including sacrificing and taking advantage of errors. Ken Eriksen built his roster with small ball as a specialty, and despite the presence of power hitters Arioto and Chidester, he looks like a genius now as it seems clear that Team USA is not going to win ballgames with power.
MEXICO VS. CANADA
Canada came out firing on all cylinders, limiting the Mexican offense and rolling heartily at the plate themselves.
Sara Groenewegen threw four no-hit innings in the game, collecting three strikeouts and allowing just one walk. Groenewegen retired seven straight Mexican batters to start the game with just one ball leaving the infield off a Mexican bat.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Canadians came out swinging. Back-to-back infield singles started the first inning for Victoria Hayward and Larissa Franklin, and the Canadians collected four total hits in the first en route to scoring twice in the opening frame. Kaleigh Rafter and Jenn Salling each recorded RBI singles in the first, while Salling added a solo home run in the third and Kelsey Harshman added an RBI single in the fourth inning to give Canada their eventual-winning 4-0 lead.
Dallas Escobedo had some struggles in the opener, including being called for multiple illegal pitches in the early frames. Escobedo was called twice in the first inning for an illegal pitch, including to the leadoff batter Hayward, and was again called for an illegal pitch in the second inning.