USA Comes From Behind, Earns No. 1 Spot in Pan American Playoffs
GUADALAJARA, MEXICO - Down 5-0 in the first inning, the resiliency of the young USA Softball Women's National team proved itself as the U.S. mounted a comeback to defeat Canada 12-5 in five innings on Thursday afternoon. A game full of ups and downs, the U.S. stayed perfect at 6-0 overall and moved into the final day of round robin play as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The U.S. will take the field on Friday at 4 p.m. versus Argentina. The playoffs begin on Saturday with a 4 p.m. game of No. 1 USA versus No. 2 who is yet to be determined.
"As long as I have been coaching Team USA and been involved with this program, I don't think we have ever been down five and comeback against a quality team like Canada," said head coach Ken Eriksen. "I thought our kids kept their heads on really well. There was no panic in the dugout and I thought Stacy May-Johnson did an unbelievable job in a leadership role for us. This team really did just focus on each moment and did not get caught up in the scoreboard. They took care of the little things and the end results took care of themselves. I am pretty proud as a coach."
The last time five runs were scored on the U.S. team in a Pan American Games competition was on August 21, 1983 when the U.S. defeated Belize 16-6 at the Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. No player on the current roster was even born at that time.
On the second pitch of the game, the U.S. trailed for the first time in this Pan American games when Canada's Melanie Matthews's roped the ball down the right field line and as it bounced off the right field wall as Matthews sped around the bases for an inside the park home run and very early 1-0 lead. The hits kept coming off U.S. starting pitcher Whitney Canion as Jen Yee connected on a double before the U.S. intentionally walked Kaleigh Rafter. Then Kelsey Haberl was issued a walk from Canion before the U.S. called on its bullpen already in the first for lefty Keilani Ricketts.
With bases loaded Ricketts walked in the second run for Canada and was responsible for a hit by pitch that resulted in the third run. Jillian Russell then drove a two RBI single through the left side for Canada plating two runs and the solid 5-0 lead.
The U.S. put two runners on in the first via walks from starting Canadian starting pitcher Ashley Lanz, but could not muster a run with back-to-back fly outs to close the inning.
To start the bottom of the second Valerie Arioto led things off with her first hit of the Games after earning eight walks for Team USA over five games. The hitting was contagious as the U.S. loaded the bases and Michelle Moultrie knocked in the first run for the U.S. with an RBI single. Canada then called for a pitching change for Sarah Phillips as the U.S. again had the bases loaded.
Then there was a 10-minute delay as the U.S made a substitution using the flex bringing Ricketts to the plate. After some confusion, play resumed and Phillips was called for an illegal pitch which plated Molly Johnson for the 5-2 difference. Ricketts then earned a walk to load the bases again before Phillips issued a walk to Lauren Gibson giving the U.S. a gift as they inched forward now down 5-3. Canadian pitcher Eujenna Caira was then called upon from the Canadian dugout and Stacy May-Johnson greeted her with an immediate RBI single for run No. 4. A wild pitch from Caira plated Rhea Taylor who re-entered to run for Ricketts bringing the contest to a 5-5 tie. A groundout to third base closed the U.S. rally but the tide was turned as the game was knotted up after two complete innings.
Clutch hitter Moultrie struck again for the Red, White and Blue in the third to take a solid 8-5 lead heading into the fourth. With runners on second and third after M. Johnson reached on a blooper single and Ashley Holcombe on a fielder's choice, they both advanced on a wild pitch from Caira. Moultrie then added her second and third RBI of the game with a triple, her second of the tournament to bring the U.S. dugout to its feet with cheers. With the 7-5 lead, a fielder's choice RBI from R. Taylor padded the lead to 8-5.
"It was tough facing Caira," said Moultrie. "I was just trying to stay focus and look for a pitch that I could drive and try to get those runners in. It feels good to come out with a win against such a good team like Canada," said Moultrie. "When we got down we didn't get out of our game. We just kept thinking one run at a time and kept our confidence up."
The second inside-the-park home run of the game came in the bottom of the fourth inning but on the USA side. May-Johnson dropped a line drive shot to right field that took a strong hop allowing May-Johnson to sprint through the base pads and give the U.S. a 9-5 advantage.
The U.S. finally closed down Canada in the bottom of the fifth inning scoring three runs on four hits. A Jenae Leles double scored Gibson and May-Johnson who reached on a single and hut-by-pitch respectively. Arioto knocked in the final run that ended the game with an RBI single through the right side.
Ricketts and crew settled the Canadian bats after the initial five-run onset allowing just five hits through four innings.
Moultrie was 2-for-3 with three RBI while May-Johnson and Leles each added two RBI. Arioto was 3-for-4 with one RBI.