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Women's Softball: US Winning Streak Ended By Japan
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Japan triumphed in a heavyweight clash at the ISF Women's Softball World Championships yesterday, defeating defending champions the United States.

In only the US team's second defeat in the past 20 years, during which they have won five consecutive World titles, Japan, runners-up in the last World Cup in Canada, scored the upset victory 3-1.

In the other play-off game, a single-run homer from Stacey Porter gave Australia a 1-0 victory over China and eliminated the hosts from the championships. The Aussies will play the US today for the other place in the gold medal game. China finished with a fourth place.

In a highly-anticipated meeting between the US and Japan, both teams were looking to conserve their perfect record. Japan were looking forward to a change in fortunes after losing to the US 5-2 in the title game at the II World Cup a month ago. The US for their part were hoping to kept their winning streak at the Worlds intact.

Neither team was able to score a run until the fourth inning. Aki Uenishi broke the deadlock after a pitch from US glamour girl Jennie Finch. She then moved to the second and third on Emi Naito's single and Eri Yamada's sacrifice bunt respectively before making it home.

Finch failed to lift her performance, allowing Sachiko Ito to hit another single and drive Naito home.

Japan extended their lead to 3-0 at the bottom of fifth as Ayumi Karino's double sent Megu Hirose home.

The Americans did everything they could to bring the game back, including a run from Caitlin Lowe who scored on Crystl Bustos' double in the sixth but their efforts proved insufficient.

Japanese starter Yukiko Ueno gave another outstanding performance, pitching a complete game with three hits and seven strikeouts. Finch allowed two runs on two hits over four innings with two strikeouts. Jamie Southern closed the game with two strikeouts, two hits and one run.

"It's our best game in this tournament," said Japanese head coach Hidetomi Ikama. "Japan made a breakthrough and won the game in the best way."

Ikama was full of praise for Ueno, saying the pitcher made a difference in the game.

"Yukiko Ueno successfully contained USA's offence at the beginning of the game," he said. "It's impossible for us to win without Yukiko Ueno. There's still a gap between us and USA."

The US can still claim the gold if they can defeat Australia today.

China was another loser yesterday, as they bid farewell to the tournament with a heart-breaking 1-0 defeat to Australia.

Both teams were pumped after winning their first play-off games earlier in the day. China defeated Italy 9-1 in a five-inning shutout, while Australia came back to beat Canada 7-2.

They went head-to-head during the crucial night-time session. Porter's homer in the fourth inning was the highlight of the game, enough to end it in regular time.

When a fly ball from China's last batter Wu Di was caught, the Aussies ran into the field to celebrate the tough win and silent the home audience.

"It's hurts bad," said China's Michael Bastian. "Tonight's game was decided by one pitch that gave one home run."

Bastian came into the tournament with an ambitious goal of winning the first ever Worlds gold for China.

"I am very disappointed with the result," he said.

"I've only coached the Chinese national team for a year but fourth place is odd for me. I cannot remember how many fourth places we have had in the past Olympics and Worlds."

China finished fourth place at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games and also in the last Worlds in 2002.

But Bastian believes China is coming closer, especially after three tight losses, 2-0 to US, 1-0 to Japan and 1-0 to Australia.

"We've come a long way to get here. We are much better than we used to be."

(China Daily September 5, 2006)

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