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Canadians take game off American world champs

The American women's national fastpitch team won gold at the last seven world championships, including a couple weeks ago in Venezuela.

The American women’s national fastpitch team won gold at the last seven world championships, including a couple weeks ago in Venezuela. But if there’s one thing the two exhibition games played this week in Whitehorse prove, the continuation of a win streak is never guaranteed.

Canada and America’s national women’s softball teams were in town for a pair of games Tuesday and Wednesday at the Pepsi Softball Centre. The Canadians, who won bronze at the ISF Women’s World Championship, managed to split the two-game series with the world champs, losing 5-4 Tuesday, winning 5-1 Wednesday.

“It was a good game - last night was too, we just started a bit late,” said Team Canada head coach Mark Smith. “Tonight we started early and played with the type of intensity we’re capable of and the result was a lot more to our liking.”

Canada drew first blood on Wednesday, scoring three runs in the third. With runners on second and third, Calgary’s Sheena Lawrick hit a line drive just over the second-base bag, making it 2-0. Guelph, Ontario’s Kaleigh Rafter then put in Lawrick with a sacrifice fly to left field. Rafter went on to make it 5-1 in the sixth with a solo shot to centre field.

“I think yesterday we were a little tired and came out a little flat in the first three innings - it’s always tough to play that team coming from behind because they’re a really good team and pitching has always been their strength,” said Rafter. “Today we were able to get out in front of them early and force them to make plays and make hits, and we just kept pressure on them all game. It worked for us today.”

On Tuesday, it was the Canadians playing catch-up, going down 3-0 in the second but getting the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Down 5-2 to start the final inning, Jennifer Yee, from North Delta, BC, put a deep shot off the left field wall before Lawrick smacked a two-run homer. Canada’s Caitlin Lever from Buffalo, New York, hit a homerun in the third inning.

Helping keep the American bats quiet - pitching all of Tuesday’s game and four innings on Wednesday - was Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie from Langley, BC. Lawrie, who recently graduated from University of Washington (where she became the only Canadian to win a NCAA Player of the Year award - in both 2009 and 2010) registered eight strikeouts Tuesday and six in her four innings the following night.

“She throws a lot of innings with her University of Washington team, where she just graduated from in June,” said Smith. “She’s been their workhorse there and has thrown 300 innings a year. So she’s used to a lot of work and tonight was an example of her throwing a game last night and then being able to come in here tonight for four innings and pitch just as well, if not better, than she did last night.”

After leaving the world championships, the two teams stopped in Vancouver for four exhibition games. Like the games in Whitehorse, which attracted 1,500 spectators in total, the series was split, two wins apiece.

“This past year our hitting has really picked up,” said Rafter. “Our whole lineup, from top to bottom, isn’t easy outs. And obviously our pitching on the mound with Danielle (Lawrie) and Jenna (Caira) as well - that’s been a strength in the past, but now we’ve solidified both aspects. We keep getting better as a group.”

Although the two teams, which were said to be made up from first-time visitors to the territory, did not have time to go sightseeing, both said they enjoyed their stay and determined Whitehorse to be a great location for when it hosts the ISF XIII Women’s World Championship in 2012.

“It’s a great facility - you have that great advantage where lights aren’t an issue, so that a very unique advantage to have,” said Smith. “George Arcand (executive director of Softball Yukon and chair of the 2012 organizing committee) is known throughout Softball Canada as a great organizer and administrator and doing a great job. We knew coming in here we’d be looked after and things would be well prepared.

“I’m sure, with two years to prepare, it will be a world-class event.”

“It’s been cool. It’s definitely an interesting place to see and the people have been awesome,” said Rafter. “Walking into Tim Hortons this morning, everyone was saying hi and wishing us good luck, so it has that nice small-town feel where everyone is rooting for you and you can feel the crowd behind you when you’re playing.

“It was a great experience.”

After seven weeks on the road and away from family and friends, Team Canada has returned to their hometowns where they will have a few days off before going to World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City in a week.

“This is obviously a different place than I’ve ever been. So chalk it up as another place we get to go and see,” said Lawrie of Whitehorse. “They’ve done a great job hosting us and I think it’s a good spot for in two years when we come here because it’s different.

“I think to have it in our country is definitely an advantage.”

Whitehorse played host to the ISF Junior Men’s World Fastpitch Championships in 2008 where Canada came within an out of winning gold but had to settle with silver after a last inning surge by the Australians.

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