Japan Champs of Softball Down Under Series
13 February 2017
SOFTBALL: A combination of a relentless heatwave and a high-quality Japanese national team consigned the Aussie Spirit to runners-up status at the International Down Under Series in Sydney.
A brilliant pitching performance by Yukari Hamamura carried Japan to a 4-0 victory in the final, making it back-to-back Down Under Series titles for the world’s top-ranked team.
The Spirit got off to a promising start, with leadoff hitter Leigh Godfrey opening the game with a single, followed by a walk to Stacey McManus. But Hamamura responded with a strikeout and two pop-ups to end the threat.
The second inning also began promisingly for the Aussies as Samantha Poole led off with a double and went to third on Clare Warwick’s sacrifice bunt. But again Hamamura came through with big pitches at the right time, keeping the Spirit off the scoreboard.
Spirit pitcher Kaia Parnaby was in complete control through the first two innings, not allowing a ball to leave the infield. But in the third inning, a combination of a base hit, a fielding error and a wild pitch gave Japan a 1-0 lead.
The Japanese doubled their lead in the fourth, with a single, a sacrifice bunt and another single.
Ellen Roberts relieved Parnaby to start the fifth inning, and Japan responded with two runs on three hits. Some great defensive work by Poole and Chelsea Forkin produced outs at third base and home, restricting the damage to two runs.
But the 4-0 lead proved more than enough for Japan. Apart from a brief threat in the sixth inning, when McManus singled and Forkin reached on an error, the Aussies had no answers to Hamamura.
New Zealand finished third in the tournament after a 3-2 win over the Australian All Stars.
This game went down to the wire, with the Kiwis scoring two runs in the top of the seventh inning, then holding off the All Stars in the bottom of the inning despite a triple by Jessica Torpey and an infield single by Jemma Freegard.
The All Stars won only one game, a 7-0 result over New Zealand on Friday, but put in some strong performances in defeat, particularly in a 1-0 loss to the Spirit and a 2-0 loss to Japan.
All Stars Head Coach Kerrie Porter was impressed by the way her team played against top-quality competition in oppressive conditions.
“Every athlete on the team contributed, and we saw a lot of growth from the start to the end of the tournament,” Porter said. “It was a very positive environment and the players got a lot out of it.
“For some of the players it was their first experience representing against strong international competition, and they handled it really well. They have seen what it takes to step up the next level, and several of them showed that they are ready to do that.”
Porter was also impressed by the way her team reacted to oppressive conditions at Blacktown International Sportspark. “It was unbelievably hot, even at the night games. But no one, players or staff, complained. They focused on with the job and handled themselves very well. ”
Individual awards at Down Under Series
Batting – Chelsea Forkin (Aussie Spirit)
Pitching – Ayaka Izumi (Japan)
MVP – Stacey Porter (Aussie Spirit)
Player of the Final – Hamamura (Japan)