Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno once threw a perfect game in the Olympics.
But on Monday, her dream came true.
"I'm very glad," said Ueno through a translator. "My aim was to beat the U.S.A."
Thanks largely to Ueno's arm, the Japanese national team was able to topple the United State softball team in Monday's Gold Medal game of the World Cup of Softball.
Ueno struck out five and allowed just three hits in a complete game performance, while her teammates scratched out just enough runs to claim a 3-1 win at Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium.
Ueno's translator, wearing an OU T-shirt, struggled to understand all of the questions asked by the media after Monday's game. But that was OK, as Ueno's smile told the whole story.
For this was more than just doing well in the Olympics. This was shutting down the giant of the international softball world. In the Americans' own backyard, no less.
How big was it for the Japanese? After they were awarded their championship trophy, players picked up head coach Hidetomi Ikawa off the ground and tossed him in the air. It was the first time Japan had beaten the Americans since 2002.
"We want to be the equals of the U.S.A team," Ueno said. "So this is a great thing."
The Japanese took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning, getting three hits off starting pitcher Cat Osterman, the Texas star who is arguably the best in today's college ranks. Mikiko Tanaka's two-run single to center plated the winning runs.
U.S.A cut the lead with a run in bottom of the fourth when Jessica Mendoza scored on a single to left by Kellie Wilkerson, who had two of Team U.S.A's three hits.
In that inning, the Americans had runners at first and second with no outs and power hitter Stacey Nuveman at the plate. She entered the game hitting .600 in the event with two homers, but was given the bunt signal. Her bunt turned into a double play when Caitlin Lowe was forced out at third and Nuveman, running on a bad foot, was thrown out at first.
With speedster Lowe at second, head coach Mike Candrea figured a bunt was a safe bet.
"I was really surprised they threw (Caitlin) out," Candrea said. "I thought it was a good enough bunt. I'd probably do the same thing."
"Really, it's Softball 101," Nuveman said. "Would I prefer to swing away, sure. But when I'm called on to bunt, obviously, they have confidence in me to get the bunt down.
"In hindsight, maybe it was a bad situation, but not a bad call. Maybe if I put the bunt down on the right side, we're still playing."
That inning turned out to be the Americans' final opportunity. Ueno held U.S.A hitless for the final three innings. Ueno struggled with control in the sixth, recording all three of her walks, but U.S.A left two runners stranded.
"We just couldn't get the big hit, simple as that," Nuveman said.
Japan added a run in the seventh, getting three hits off relief pitcher Jennie Finch. Osterman took the loss, but pitched well after giving up two runs in the second inning. She struck out eight and allowed five hits in six innings.
"I felt like I was still pitching well at the end of the game," Osterman said. "It was a coach's decision. (Japan) had put in some right-handed hitters and I'm strong against lefties, so it was a good move."
For the Americans, the World Cup started with a surprising loss to Canada, and ended in another upset.
But this is also a young team. Six players are making their international debuts this year.
"Obviously, this is heartbreaking," Osterman said. "Not all of us have played together before, so we know there's work to do. We have to get better."
This Week's Circulars
Donald Dayne "DAF" Keim, 68, of Norman, passed away Wednesday, April 14, 2021. There are no services scheduled at this time. Condolences may be shared at www.havenbrookfuneralhome.com
Paula Jean Meyer, 66, of Moore passed away 4/16/2021. Visitation, 2PM-4PM, 4/18/2021, Tribute Memorial Care Event Center, 708 24th Ave. NW, Norman. Celebration of Life Service, 10AM, 4/19/2021, Emmaus Baptist Church, 16001 S Western Ave, Oklahoma City. (www.tribute.care) 405.292.4787.
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