The college softball season ended in early June, but that doesn't mean players have been idle.
The world No. 1-ranked collegiate U.S. Women's National Team traveled to Japan for a three-game series against the No. 2-ranked Japanese National Team on Aug. 4-7. The Japanese All-Star series stretched across three cities: Iwakuni, Fukushima and Yokohama.
Team USA was hoping to avenge last year's series loss, when Japan captured two out of the three games. After the Eagles won a 12-11 barnburner to kick off this year's series, things were looking up. But Japan came back to take the following two games and once again claim bragging rights.
Team USA's collegiate roster, composed of 16 players from 12 Division I universities, highlights the first-ever Women's National Team roster featuring all current collegiate athletes. The coaching staff was led by University of Washington head coach Heather Tarr, with Tony Baldwin of Georgia, Cindy Ball-Malone of UCF and University of Florida's Tim Walton serving as assistants.
Players participated in several training sessions and sightseeing excursions before the games began. Game 1 took place in Iwakuni, and the fans were treated to an offensive show that went into extra innings.
Recapping USA Softball's Three-Game Series
NiJaree Canady (Stanford) got the start for the Eagles, temporarily giving way to Washington's Ruby Meylan and Valerie Cagle of Clemson before going back in the circle for the game's final seven outs. Canady pitched five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, and all three pitchers combined for 10 K's.
Team USA's offense pounded out 17 hits, including two home runs by UCLA's Megan Grant. After jumping out to a 6-0 lead through three innings, the Eagles surrendered seven unanswered runs before jumping back on top 8-7 in the top of the sixth, fueled by Grant's second homer.
The two teams traded leads until the Eagles scored on an infield error for a 12-11 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth. Canady retired the Japanese team in order to preserve the victory.
The series headed to Fukushima for Game 2, and Japan dominated in a 6-1 triumph to even the series. After the Eagles tied the score 1-1 in the bottom of the third on a single from Kentucky's Erin Coffel, Team Japan scored two in the fourth and three more in the fifth to even the series and set the stage for a rubber game at Yokohama Stadium, which hosted the Tokyo 2020 Olympic softball gold medal game.
The final game turned out to be a pitcher's duel, with the Japanese clinching the series in a 1-0 shutout. Cagle and Canady limited Team Japan to just four hits, but the lone run of the contest came off Cagle in the bottom of the second following a walk and a double.
The Eagles' offense managed just two hits off Japan's pitching, with one coming from Cagle and the other from LSU's Taylor Pleasants. Hannah Gammill (Arkansas) was hit by a pitch in the seventh, but a double play wiped out any hopes of a U.S. comeback.
Team USA combined for a .255 batting average in the series, with Cagle, Coffel and Grant each posting a .333 average. Canady, making her Team USA debut along with Cagle, Coffel and Grant, totaled 13 strikeouts in 10 innings of work.
The Japan All-Star Series featured a little of everything: nip-and-tuck action, sparkling defense and great pitching. Over 15,000 fans turned out across the three games. Following Games 2 and 3, both teams posed for a photo to signify the hopes and dreams of each athlete: being a part of the LA28 Olympic Games.
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