WHITEHORSE, CANADA – In a dramatic flashback of the Beijing Olympics, Yukiko Ueno led Japan to a 10-inning, 2-1 victory over the United States on Sunday, ending its archrival’s seven-year stranglehold on the title at the world championship.
Japan, which shut out Australia 2-0 in the elimination game earlier in the day after Team USA defeated Japan 3-1 Saturday to reach the final, won its first championship in 42 years and second overall.
With a runner on third and one out in the top of the 10th, Misa Okubo laid down a suicide squeeze for the winning run.
“Ueno was fantastic,” said Japan coach Reika Utsugi. “We wanted to play with no regrets. It was amazing. We want to let all the people in Japan know that softball is still alive.”
Ueno, who famously beat a vastly more experienced U.S. team in the final game of Olympic softball history to lead Japan to the gold in Beijing in 2008, allowed just three hits while striking out eight over the distance.
Ueno pitched all seven innings in the game against Australia as well to make the final and made four consecutive mound appearances over three days in the tournament in Whitehorse, Yukon.
“I pitched better than I expected I would,” said the 30-year-old Ueno. “I didn’t think I would be able to persevere and maintain my focus to pitch this many innings,” she said.
Ueno pitched 32 innings, and the grueling schedule here was more than she experienced in Beijing, where she pitched three consecutive times over two days. “It was similar to what I had to do in Beijing. I enjoyed myself while I pitched.”
Both teams were in a scoreless deadlock through the seventh inning. Japan scored the go-ahead run in the ninth only for the Americans to tie it with two outs in the bottom half, needing only one more strike to end the game.
But Okubo didn’t miss when she had her chance for a squeeze on the first pitch she saw. “I thought something good would happen, if I could just lay the ball down. I was told before the game that we might use a squeeze,” Okubo said.