Team Canada will need to be at the top of their game as they head into the playoffs of the ISF Women’s World Fastpitch Championship.
With a 2-0 win over Australia on Wednesday and an 8-0 win over Italy on Thursday, the Canadians finished second in their pool and are now slated to play powerhouse Team U.S.A. to start the playoffs at 5 p.m. on Friday at Whitehorse’s Pepsi Softball Complex.
Team Canada has the tools to get the job done, said head coach Mark Smith.
“The reality is that we’re the only country in recent years that has defeated the United States at least once every season. No one else has come close,” he said.
“Our kids know they’re capable of it and the fact of the matter is we’re going to have to go out tomorrow and play well, get the key hits. The pitching is going to have to be solid, the defence is going to have to be solid.
“This group is up for it. They’re playing at home, the fans have been phenomenal ... and I’m confident we’re going to play a really good ballgame tomorrow night.”
The undefeated Americans, who have won the last seven world championships, have done nothing short of dominating every team they’ve faced so far this week in their pool. The nine-time world champs took their first six games without allowing a single run.
Argentina finally ended the shutout streak in a 14-1 loss to U.S.A. on Thursday.
“We just need to go out and be ourselves,” said Smith. “They have the deepest talent in the world in this game - the size of their country, the number of kids that play the sport. They clearly have the advantage over the rest of the world.”
Wednesday’s win over Australia was Canada’s closest of the championship so far. Since each team went into the game with one loss, and both won their games on Thursday, it turned out to be Canada’s most important win this week.
Had Canada lost, they would have finished third behind Australia in their pool and been in a more precarious position for the playoffs. By finishing second instead of third, Friday’s game against the U.S.A. is not a do-or-die situation.
Only the top four teams from each of the two pools - Section A and Section B - advance past the round-robin into the playoffs. The top two teams from each pool can lose Friday without elimination.
For the teams that finished third and fourth, a loss on Friday is the end of the road.
So if Canada loses to the Americans, they will play the winner of a game between Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands on Saturday at 12 p.m. to stay alive and in medal contention.
If Canada defeats the U.S.A., they will play the winner of Japan versus China on Saturday at 5 p.m. The winner of that game goes straight into the final; the loser needs to win another game to reach the final.
“We knew they’d be one of the tougher teams we’d play in the round-robin and that that would be a pivotal game in terms of determining single-life or double-life in our pool,” said Smith of the Australia game. “It was a good game for us. The girls stepped up and did what had to be done and as a result of it, now we enjoy double-life.”
Canada finished the round-robin with a 6-1 record with four shutout wins. Their one loss was 6-2 to Japan on Sunday. Japan finished first in Section B and the U.S.A. finished first in Section A.
As of Thursday night, following the win over Italy, Canada’s starting pitcher against the U.S. had not been determined. But since Smith said, “Tomorrow we’re going at them,” there’s a good chance Danielle Lawrie, who got the win over Australia, will get the nod.
“We’ll talk to the pitchers and find out where they are and how they’re feeling and that sort of thing,” said Smith. “The expectation that one pitcher is going to go seven (innings) against them isn’t realistic, so what’s the sequence, who will we use, how will we use them - that’s stuff we have to sort out.”
Lawrie produced 11 strikeouts and allowed just three hits against Australia, in her first appearance at the championship.
The 25-year-old arrived in Whitehorse on Tuesday - Day 5 of the championship - after playing for her professional Florida-based team, the USSSA Pride, over the weekend.
The right-hander is a two-time U.S.A. Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year.
“It was a good game; it felt good to get back in with the girls,” said Lawrie. “It felt good to get back on home soil and get into a groove with the catcher.
“I wouldn’t say (I’m) at the top of my game. I’m just trying to stay consistent. I’ve been throwing since March competitively, so I’m just taking it one game at a time and making sure that I’m on the same page as our catcher.”
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