Team Australia got all the runs it needed on one ball that just found a hole up the middle.
As for the rest, manger David Nilsson entrusted that to his pitchers and fielders. They rewarded his faith with a superb effort and a big upset of one of the game’s traditional powers.
Aaron Whitefield hit a two-run single in the first inning, Tim Atherton set the tone on mound and Australia upset the United States 2-1 in their Premier12 Super Round matchup on Wednesday afternoon at Tokyo Dome.
“It’s a great feeling, but it’s also an expected feeling,” Atherton said. “We came to this tournament with this expectation in mind and now we’re just executing, not just six months leading up to this, but lifetimes of hard work.
“It took great performances in all three facets, pitching, defense and offense. I don’t have the confidence to go out there and throw the pitches that I want to throw unless I’ve got that defense picking me up and then the offense doing their job at the start of the game.”
It was a disappointing result for the Americans, who beat Japan in a exciting game on Tuesday night and had a quick turnaround for Wednesday’s noon start.
“The game last night, I would say for 27 of the 28 players on that team, it’s probably one of the coolest games we were a part of,” said American left fielder Mark Payton. “That’s the beauty of this game, especially in an international tournament, where every game is like a Game 7. We showed up ready to play today, the ball just didn’t fall right for us.”
Australia got off to a fast start, beginning the game by loading the bases on two walks sandwiched around an Andrew Campbell double. A single up the middle and into center by Whitefield later put the Aussies ahead 2-0.
Atherton took the mound in the bottom of the first with a two-run advantage and proceeded to allow just one hit, two walks and a hit batter over 5⅓ innings. He struck out four in a 76-pitch outing.
“I think the catcher and I worked well together,” Atherton said. “We got ahead, we established the fastball on both sides of the plate and then we pitched to our game. We wanted to get the American team in swing mode, and then once we knew that they were swinging, we could then go with the off-speed pitches. It was just about staying aggressive and not giving in.”
Both teams pitched well.
U.S. starter Tanner Houck, who was a late scratch from Tuesday’s game against Japan, bounced back from Whitefield’s single by retiring the next 13 batters in order. He took the loss after allowing two runs on two hits in five innings. He struck out five and walked two.
Payton accounted for Team USA’s only run with a homer to right in the eighth off reliever Ryan Searle.
Searle allowed a leadoff single in the ninth before getting the first out of the frame. He was relieved by Jon Kennedy, who retired the next two batters for the save.
“We knew Australia was going to be a tough game,” U.S manager Scott Brosius said. “They’ve been very competitive, every game they’ve played has been close. So we knew we were going to be into a tight and close game today. Just very disappointed that we just weren’t able to score enough runs to beat them today.”
Australia is now 1-3 in the Super Round, as is the U.S., and still clinging to its hopes of securing one of the Olympic berths up for grabs.
“I think for every team here, except for Team Japan, the Olympics is something that is in the back of their mind,” Nilsson said. “But on a daily basis, being at the Premier12, all we’re worried about is the next team we’re playing.”