Japan beats U.S. team to retain softball title


Japan defeated the United States 4-1 to retain its softball world championship title on Sunday.

The Japanese, who won all 10 games en route to their third overall title, beat the Americans in the final for the second tournament in row, having won the championships for the first time in 42 years in 2012.

“Japan’s power is the real thing,” said Japan manager Reika Utsugi. “Winning all 10 games and a second consecutive title is not easy.”

In the first at-bat, with one out, Rei Nishiyama walked, then advanced on a sacrifice bunt. Eri Yamada was then walked intentionally to set up a force play and a walk for Yukiyo Mine to load the bases.

Haruna Sakamoto followed with a two-run single and Minami Sato added an RBI-single to give Japan an early 3-0 lead.

“All of a sudden we had a chance and I just tried to belt it,” said Sakamoto. “We were able to get on a roll after scoring early.”

Yu Yamamoto and Rei Nishiyama then both singled, and the lead runner scored when Misato Kawamo connected for the third consecutive single in the fourth inning.

Veteran pitcher Yukiko Ueno struck out six batters, walked three and gave up eight hits. Despite being outhit 8-7, Ueno got the offensive support she needed.

“Ueno, Nishiyama and Yamada, those three players carried the team,” said Utsugi.

“Getting runs early on made things easier for me. I am glad we could win consecutive titles,” said Ueno, who helped pitch Japan to the last Olympic gold medal in the sport in 2008.

“Japan has won the championship. I think we have made a case for trying to get softball back at the Olympics.”

Baseball and softball were taken off the Olympic menu after Beijing 2008 and both sports are aiming for a return to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.