CHIBA – The defending champion United States twice came from behind in extra innings to beat Japan 7-6 and win the softball world championship on Sunday night.
Japan appeared to hold a commanding lead after Yamato Fujita’s second home run of the night, a two-run shot in the 10th, but the Americans battled back for three runs in the home half, ending a heroic effort from Japan ace Yukiko Ueno.
Ueno, who pitched a shutout earlier in the day to lead Japan to a 3-0 win over Canada and a spot in the final went the distance in the championship game, suffering her first loss of the tournament.
A night after a 4-3 extra-inning loss to the Americans forced Japan to play in Sunday’s second semifinal, Mana Atsumi opened the scoring against the USA in the second.
Atsumi reached on an infield single, and Fujita, Japan’s starting pitcher against the United States on Saturday, grounded a single up the middle. With one out, Haruka Agatsuma faked a bunt and slashed a single past third.
Ueno appeared to tire in the second inning, when she walked two batters and hit another but kept the Americans off the board with the help of a double play.
Japan added a run in the third, when Saki Yamazaki singled past short with two outs and scored on Yu Yamamoto’s triple.
The Americans got to Ueno in the third, however, on singles by Haylie McCleney and Alison Aguilar and Delaney Spaulding’s two-out, three-run home run.
Japan tied it in the sixth on Fujita’s leadoff homer against Rachel Garcia. Japan, however, wasted a golden opportunity by bunting into a double play.
With tie break rules in play from the eighth inning, Japan kicked off the extra frame with Atsumi on second, and she scored from third on Minori Naito’s single.
The United States put runners on the corners with no outs on a sacrifice when Japan tried and failed to get the lead runner at third base. With the infield playing in, Ueno struck out Spaulding, but Michelle Moultrie tied it by ripping a ground single.
Japan was looking to win the world championship for the first time since 2014. Canada, aiming to be the first team other than Japan or the United States to contest the final since 1998, settled for third place.