OKLAHOMA CITY — Unlike the last time a pair of Sooners took the field at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, there was no great drama, no national title on the line. But there was still plenty to play for as Destinee Martinez, Lauren Chamberlain and the rest of Team USA took the field Thursday to square off against Canada in the World Cup of Softball opener.
And the Americans responded exactly as was expected from a team comprised of the nation’s best players. They struck early against Canada, jumping out to a 4-0 lead after two innings on their way to a 7-0, six-inning victory.
While the national team cruised easily to victory, they made sure to provide some fireworks along the way. The most impressive came in the top of the sixth inning, when Lauren Gibson went after a pitch high in the zone and sent it well over the wall in left-center for a two-run blast that put the finishing touches on the victory.
Gibson, who led the team to last year’s World Cup title by batting .500 for the squad in 2012 before leading Tennessee to the national title series against Oklahoma in her senior season, said the team had already improved in the few days since they came together.
And Gibson was a big part of that on Thursday. In addition to the home run, she stole three bases on the night.
“It was a great win as a team,” she said. “Our pitching was great, and our offense and defense improved from when we scrimmaged Australia. It was really nice to get off to a start like that because it helps our pitching and our defense so much to have runs on the board.”
It was Sara Nevins, the pitcher, who benefited from Team USA’s hot start. With the relatively recent developments that left star pitcher Keilani Ricketts off the roster, opening-night duties fell to South Florida’s Nevins, who was more than up to the challenge. The senior allowed just a pair of hits while forcing the Canadians into routine ground balls for most of the night.
Coach Ken Eriksen was pleased with the way his team opened the tournament, and he was especially impressed, if not surprised, by Gibson’s performance.
“That’s typical Gibson,” he said. “When you see it every day you have to step back and appreciate it. We hit on all the right plays, and the focus was tremendous. It was a great effort.”
Next up for the United States is a 7 p.m. matchup today against Australia before taking on Japan and Puerto Rico on Saturday and Sunday. If they make it to the title game, they will then face one of those four squads again at 8 p.m. Sunday for the World Cup title.