USA Softball Advances to Pan American Games Championship
GUADALAJARA, MEXICO - The USA Softball Women's National team punched its ticket to the Pan American Games gold medal grand finale on Saturday evening after firing on all cylinders coming away with a 13-1 run-rule victory against No. 2 seed Cuba. With the win, the U.S. advances to the gold medal game on Sunday at noon CST against the winner of Cuba vs. Canada game scheduled for 10 a.m.
With a record of 8-0 and five shutout victories, the U.S improves its overall Pan American Games record to 86-3 since it debuted in 1979. The U.S has won the last six consecutive gold medals and will be seeking its eighth overall on Sunday afternoon. In the 2011 games, the U.S. has outscored its opponents 67-7 with a .714 slugging percentage.
"We are not doing anything different than we did in June when we got together," said head coach Ken Eriksen. "We are just trying to play really good softball when we come out each day. A lot of people were talking about the new realm of USA Softball this season and we have got some really good people and some really good ball players and things are starting to come together. These players are looking around at each other and they trust each other. They know if they don't do it somebody else will and that is a great feeling to have. We are fortunate right now and we will wake up tomorrow and come out and keep playing our game."
Starting pitcher Keilani Ricketts was on fire to start the game striking out five of the first seven batters she faced. She captured her third win of the tournament and allowed just one hit with a tournament high 11 strikeouts. Molly Johnson was perfect for the Red, White and Blue going 3-for-3 with three RBI on the evening. Overall Johnson is hitting .667 (10-for-15) with four doubles and seven RBI.
"I am having so much fun right now," said Johnson. "I just go out there and have fun because having come back from my injuries I have learned you just never know what is going to happen next so you have to make the best of it. This team is ready for tomorrow no matter who we face, we are right where we want to be."
The hot hitting bat of Kaitlin Cochran led off the top of the second with a line drive single through the right side to get the U.S. offense going. Jenae Leles then came right back at starting Cuban pitcher Lopez with a single and advanced to second on a bad throw to third. Valerie Arioto then drew her ninth walk of the Pan Ams to load the bases for Molly Johnson who drove in two RBI with a single to centerfield.
The offense kept on coming as Michelle Moultrie recorded her third triple of the week plating Arioto and Johnson and giving the U.S. a comfortable 4-0 lead.
Another run was nabbed in the third inning for the U.S. when Arioto knocked in May-Johnson with an RBI double. May-Johnson earned a base on balls earlier in the inning.
Cuba managed to put up its only run of the game in the bottom of the third inning when Sanchez led things off with an infield single. Sanchez then advanced on a throwing error from Arioto and later scored on a wild pitch from Ricketts.
In the fourth, Cuba started the inning with their third pitching change of the night but the U.S. continued to hammer away scoring another run for a 6-1 advantage. Catcher Ashley Holcombe connected on a double to start the rally before Moultrie laid down a perfect bunt to advance Holcombe to third. Lauren Gibson then hit a blooper single to right center to score Holcombe.
The swing of substituted designated player Taylor Hoagland sent the sixth home run for Team USA in the tournament over the left field wall in the fifth. With a 7-1 cushion, and no outs, M. Johnson kept on coming with an RBI double to the left field wall, her third hit of the game, which scored Arioto who earlier earned a walk. Holcombe then provided a single as well as Moultrie who scored M. Johnson to go up 9-1 USA.
Still in the fifth, pinch hitter Christi Orgeron earned a base on balls to load the bases for Gibson who continued the hit parade and drove a triple to left field for three RBI and the 12-1 lead. The U.S. recorded its final run of the inning when May-Johnson connected on an RBI single scoring moving Gibson 60 feet for the 13th run.
Gibson had a game-high four RBI and Moultrie added three of her own. Moultrie and May-Johnson lead the team with 10 RBI apiece.
Earlier in the day Canada defeated Venezuela 11-1 to advance to the 10 a.m. bronze medal game.