Team Canada hasn’t needed to play a full seven-inning game since taking their only loss on Sunday in the ISF Women’s World Fastpitch Championship at Whitehorse’s Pepsi Softball Complex.
In their last two, Canada has forced games to an early close under the tournament’s mercy rule that ends games in which a team leads by 15 runs after the third inning, 10 after the fourth and seven after the fifth.
The home team shook hands after five innings in a 12-1 win over New Zealand on Tuesday, a day after an 8-1 truncated win over Great Britain in six innings on Monday.
Canada now has a 4-1 win-loss record at the championship.
“We’re getting better. We have to continue to get better,” said Mark Smith, Team Canada’s head coach. “Yesterday was a good outing, today was a good outing and tomorrow (against Australia) we probably have to play as good a game as we’re capable of. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Wednesday night’s game against Australia is an important one. It will likely determine which of the two teams finishes second in their pool behind Japan, the team that has dealt the Canadians and Aussies their only loss so far at the championships.
“We’ll come back and battle them,” said Smith. “We have history, we play one another a lot – there are no surprises. We know their lineup top to bottom, they know our lineup top to bottom. So tomorrow, the team that plays best will win the ballgame.”
Canada defeated the Down Under squad at the 2010 world championship to advance to the medal round, going on to win bronze. But the Aussies beat Canada earlier this month to win bronze at the Canadian Open in Vancouver. (Canada did defeat Australia during the round-robin in Vancouver.)
“Just keep swinging like we have been,” said Canadian catcher Erin Cumpstone, of Wednesday’s game plan. “Our offense has been doing a great job scoring runs, our defence is doing a great job – it’s coming along.”
Cumpstone is a team leader. At 31, the Saskatoon native is the team veteran, with two Olympics and three previous world championships under her belt. In fact, she came out of retirement after missing last year, drawn back by the chance to play a world championship in Canada and with a medal-contending squad.
“It’s always fun to play at a worlds at home,” said Cumpstone. “The fans here have been awesome. Anytime you get to play in front of your fans it’s pretty exciting.
“And this team is definitely a medal-contender, so that always pushes you in.”
Slow starts for Canada, as seen in their first three games in which they failed to score a run in the first three innings, appear to be over.
Canada could not have found their footing any faster against New Zealand, with left-fielder Melanie Matthews hitting a home run to centre field on the first pitch of the game.
Matthews went 4-4 at bat in the game with four RBIs and leads the team from the plate with a .526 average.
“It’s always nice when your first batter leads off with a home run on the first pitch,” said Cumpstone. “It sets the tone for the whole game. It’s pretty fun.”
Canada scored four runs in the third inning to move up to 7-0 and five more in the top of the fifth to make it 12-0. New Zealand’s Te Reo Powhiri Matautia grounded up the middle to bring home Megan Ferrall in the bottom of the fifth for the team’s lone run.
The win was Canadian pitcher Jocelyn Cater’s first full game of the tournament. The 17-year-old from Delta, B.C., allowed only four hits and racked up nine strikeouts.
She was tested in the third. After a couple wild pitches, Cater showed her grit with a strikeout to end the inning with bases loaded.
“It was OK, there’s lots to work on still,” said Cater of her performance. “It definitely wasn’t one of my best days, but I just have to push on and move forward.”
Canada opened the championship with two shutout wins, first defeating Chinese Taipei 6-0 on Friday and then Mexico 8-0 on Saturday.
The team lost 6-2 to Japan, facing the top-ranked female pitcher in the world: Yukiko Ueno.
“We’re good,” said Cumpstone of how the team is looking. “It’s about where you finish, not where you start. So we take that Japan game, we got some bats off the best pitcher in the world and that’s only going to help us later.
“We’ll just keep fighting. It’s a long tournament – it’s 10 days.”
After five days of competition, only three teams remain undefeated – but that won’t last long. A game between two undefeated teams, U.S.A. and China, was postponed until Wednesday morning due to a lengthy rain delay on Tuesday. Japan, the third undefeated team, also had its game against Italy pushed back until Wednesday morning due to rain.
The powerhouse U.S. team, which has won the last seven world championships – nine in total – not only won its first four games, it did so without allowing a single run. They have defeated South Africa 17-0, Puerto Rico 13-0, Czech Republic 10-0 and Venezuela 7-0.
However, the Americans did lose to Japan in the final of the Canadian Open earlier this month.
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