By Paresh Dave
Hosts Japan hoisted their coach and waved to mostly empty stands to celebrate their second straight gold medal in softball on Tuesday by beating the United States 2-0 at the Tokyo Games, on the strength of Yamato Fujita’s bat, ace Yukiko Ueno’s arm and their usual all-around sharp defensive play.
The result left the United States with the silver medal, a repeat of 13 years earlier, when Japan stunned them in the most recent prior edition of Olympic softball. Canada earlier took bronze by defeating Mexico 3-2.
After Japan’s tearful coach Reika Utsugi hugged her U.S. counterpart Ken Eriksen for a minute, the winning team laid her on their shoulders and hoisted her into the air several times.
Foiling the United States the same as she did in 2008, Ueno allowed just two hits over five innings. The 39-year-old exited the game to a standing ovation from Canada and last-place Italy, both of whom watched on from the cavernous stadium’s top rows. Ueno returned in relief to throw the final three outs.
Fujita, who smiled and broke into English to say “maybe” when asked days ago whether she has Japan’s best swing, can now declare yes.
She had two hits and a hand in both runs, scoring the first after a chopper off the plate that a U.S. infielder struggled to scoop and driving in the other by reaching for a ball off the plate and smashing it to right field.
Entering the Olympics swinging a hot bat in Japan’s domestic league, Fujita ended the Games as the overall leader in runs batted in with 7 and knocked a leading 3 home runs.
U.S. pitchers Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott threw four and one-third scoreless innings. But Ally Carda, who followed in relief of Osterman, gave up three hits and walked one, allowing the base runners that led to Japan’s scores.
The pitchers had not allowed an earned run in their previous five games in the tournament.
The United States threatened to score in the first inning. Janie Reed smacked a triple, but was thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch.
Reed made up for it later, robbing Japan of a two-run homer with a stellar catch, leaping to snatch the ball as it was about to clear the fence.
Earlier on Tuesday, the sun came out to shine on Canada’s victory celebration after a drizzle-soaked bronze medal game.
Canada jumped ahead 2-0 on their way to their first ever Olympic medal in the sport. Mexico, making their debut in the event, tied the contest before Kelsey Harshman drove in the game-winning run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly.
Canada spelled out their country’s name and yelled “Let’s go Canada” in a chant dedicated to their chef de mission Marnie McBean, watching as their lone fan with spectators not allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Softball will not return to the Olympics until at least 2028.