Playoff loss leaves Canada in must-win spot

Cape Town, South Africa – Canada’s national team found out why Japan is considered one of the top softball countries in the world as they were beaten 7-1 in their first playoff game at the World Junior Women’s Softball Championship on Thursday (Dec. 15). Canada was outhit 12-3 but stayed in the game with some great defensive plays to get themselves out of several jams.

Canada will now play Chinese Taipei, who defeated China 5-0 earlier in the day. Canada is now in a must-win situation. The winner of the game between Canada and Chinese Taipei will face the winner of Australia (7-3 losers to the USA) and New Zealand (8-0 victors over Brazil).

Japan took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning that was full of action. With one out, Japan hit a line drive to the fence in right field and the player tried to stretch it into a triple but Jennifer Gilbert (Saskatoon) relayed to Kristy Noble (Uxbridge, ON) who threw a perfect strike to Carey-Leigh Thomas (Ohsweken) who put the tag on the runner at third base.

Starting pitcher Jocelyn Cater (Delta, BC) walked the next batter and then hit the Japanese cleanup hitter. A two-strike single through the right side of the infield scored the first runner as she just beat Gilbert’s throw to catcher Natalie Wideman (Mississauga) at the plate. The second run came after a wild pitch that Wideman couldn’t handle.

Canada threatened in its half of the inning when Gilbert bounced a slap single over the first baseman’s head but it was an omen of what was to come as Victoria Hayward’s (Toronto) base hit was partially touched by the pitcher just enough to slow the ball down in time to force Gilbert at second. Erika Polidori (Brantford) then forced a walk and Jaycee Affeldt (Maple Ridge, BC) hit a slow roller to the Japanese second baseman who attempted to tag Polidori and then threw to first to retire Affeldt. It looked like the Japanese second base player missed Polidori but the umpire called her out on a close play. Instead of runners on second and third with two out, the double play ended Canada’s inning.

In the third inning, Cater got into trouble giving up a single to center field and a walk. Karissa Hovinga (Edmonton, AB) relieved Cater and the first batter she faced hit a hard ground ball past third baseman Thomas but shortstop Shannon Davidson (Whitby, ON) made a great play to come up with the ball and flip it to Thomas for the out. The next batter singled off Hovinga’s glove and loaded the bases before a sacrifice fly ball to center field scored Japan’s third run. Hovinga hit the next batter to load the bases again before Thomas got the third out by snaring a line drive.

In Canada’s half of the third, Kristy Noble hit a long drive off the fence to lead off the inning for a double. Brigitte Aizprua (Terrebonne, QC) lined a shot off the first baseman’s glove and was thrown out at first but Noble moved up to third. Gilbert was hit by a pitch and Hayward followed with a deep drive to left field to score Noble and cut the lead to 3-1. Affeldt ended the inning with a fly to left.

In the fourth, a one-out triple by Japan put a runner on third but was picked off by Canada’s catcher Natalie Wideman as Japan tried a squeeze and missed the ball and Wideman snapped a throw to Thomas at third who made the tag to get Canada out of trouble. Wideman hit a two-out single for Canada’s third hit but Davidson grounded out to second to end the inning.

Japan added four more runs on six hits in the fifth as the first batter grounded out to third and the second singled to left field. Wideman promptly picked her off at first for the second out but Japan had five straight hits to score four times before Madison Schreyer (Winnipeg) came in to get the third out.

Cater took the loss going two plus innings allowing three runs, four hits and two walks. Hovinga pitched two and two thirds innings giving up four runs on eight hits and Schreyer finished with two and a third innings allowing no hits and striking out two. Noble doubled with singles going to Gilbert and Wideman.