The United States retained their title after defeating Japan 3-0 in the gold medal game at the ISF Women's Softball World Championships yesterday.
Back-to-back hits from super batters Jessica Mendoza and Crystal Bustos in the sixth inning destroyed the stifling Japanese defence and left the US on top of the world once again.
The victory is yet another chapter to the US's glorious softball history - this is their sixth consecutive world championships title since the 1984 Auckland Worlds and their eighth overall. They also won three consecutive Olympic titles starting from Atlanta 1996.
"I can't describe it, this is the best feeling ever," Mendoza, one of the biggest hitters of the tournament with five homers, said of her crucial hit. "0-0, championship game, that's the moment I dreamed about."
However, the route to the gold medal was not as sweet as the final victory, given the USA’s upset loss to Japan 3-1 on Monday, forfeiting a direct route to the final. The loss on Monday is significant as it was only the second defeat for the US in the past decade at this tournament.
"This is what 24 hours can do in the game," said Mike Candrea. "We have to get used to the ups and downs.
The US looked totally fresh in yesterday's game, even though they had beaten Australia 5-1 early in the day to win a place in the gold medal game.
With a quick, accurate passing style and outstanding pitching, the US stormed ahead as starter Catherine Osterman allowed only one hit and struck out 14 Japanese batters.
But it was their powerful hitting that won the game. With the two sides tied in the middle of the game, the Americans started to find their range while Japan had to pay for their decision not to rest their star pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who had played throughout the tournament.
After several no-run hits, Mendoza swung the bat at Ueno's pitch and the ball flew high in the air and dropped into the stands. She jumped and screamed with delight as she ran home with Natasha Watley, who had already reached the first base.
However, the nightmare for Japan was not over. US star batter Bustos then took the field, driving a Ueno weak pitch deep into the left stands to give US 3-0 lead.
Japan refused to give up and fought hard for every ball. Although they successfully held off more runs after Mariko Masubuchi relieved Ueno, they were also not able to deliver a hit against Osterman.
"Ueno is one of the best pitchers in the world and you just want to do the best against the best," Mendoza said.
Japan had to settle for second place again, same as in the 2002 Worlds in Canada.
"The US team is just better than us and they hit the ball really well," said Japanese head coach Hidetomi Ikama.
Now the US team is looking forward to extending their global dominance at the 2008 Games.
In another early-morning game Canada defeated Italy 3-0 to win the final place on offer for the 2008 Games. The top three teams, the US, Japan and Australia have also qualified with China in as the host nation.
(China Daily September 6, 2006)