After blanking teams in their first two games, Team Canada suffered its first loss at the hands of Team Japan in the ISF Women’s World Fastpitch Championship at Whitehorse’s Pepsi Softball Complex on Sunday. The final score was 6-2.
Team Japan is now undefeated after three games and Canada has a 2-1 record at the championship.
“Japan is a team that our chances of beating at any point in time are 50/50,” said Mark Smith, Team Canada’s head coach.
“They’re a very good team, they execute well, they take advantage of mistakes when you make them, and they did exactly that tonight. They do that very well against most teams they face.”
A throwing error by Canada got the ball rolling for Japan. In the bottom of the second inning, Japan’s Fujino Haruka scored when Canada’s third baseman Megan Timpf over-threw a pass to second.
“I’m not totally disappointed,” said Smith, “We did some things well. We gave up three unearned runs – that’s a 3-2 ball game if we didn’t make some mistakes we made.
“The bottom line is we … put the ball in play, we rallied, we did some of the things we need to continue to be able to do and build on for the rest of the week. Overall, though you always want to win, it was not an absolutely disappointing performance.
“We thought the girls battled hard and that will serve us well the rest of the week.”
Canada didn’t score a run until the sixth inning when outfielder Melanie Matthews came home from second on a single from Jennifer Yee to make it 5-1. Canada’s Joey Lye then beat a throw to home – diving to the plate – on a grounder up the middle from first baseman Sheena Lawrick.
“I think we’re pretty upbeat. We got off to the good start we wanted (at the championship) and faced a tough team tonight,” said Matthews. “Later in the game we had some good quality at-bats – started putting the bat on the ball a little bit more and drove the ball through the infield.”
Canada opened the championship with a 6-0 win over Chinese Taipei on Friday, followed by an 8-0 win over Mexico on Saturday. Like in their game against Japan, Canada was slow getting on the scoreboard. The team hasn’t scored a run the first three innings in any of their games.
“Ideally we’d like to get it going right from the get-go,” said Matthews. “It’s something for us to figure out going forward. We’d definitely like to provide our pitchers some run support early on. That’s something we’ll be working on as a team.”
Matthews broke the ice against Taipei after four scoreless innings. She hit a solo home run in the fifth, followed by a two-run shot in the sixth. Canada then increased the gap in the top of the seventh; Lawrick scored on a sacrifice fly from Jennifer Gilbert and two more came in on a grounder from outfielder Victoria Hayward.
In their game against Mexico, Canada scored six runs in the fourth inning, three of which came on a homer from infielder Carey-Leigh Thomas. The home team then batted in two more in the seventh.
Canadian pitcher Jenna Caira held Chinese Taipei to just three hits in Friday’s opener. However, Canada will be getting more pitching muscle at the start of this week. Langley, B.C.’s Danielle Lawrie is said to be arriving on Monday from Florida, where she plays on a professional team. The right-hander is a two-time U.S.A. Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year.
“Will a little more pitching depth make us a better team? You bet it will,” said Smith, “(Shortstop) Jenn Salling is coming as well and she’ll give us a little more offense and defence. But we have nice group of kids. They scrap, they have a lot of heart, they work hard, and we’re not at all disappointed with their attitudes and their work effort.”
Undefeated Japan has now faced three tough teams counting Canada. They beat Australia 3-1 to open the championship and then took a 7-0 win over New Zealand on Saturday.
Japan defeated the U.S.A. for gold at the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship earlier this month in Vancouver. (At the Open, Canada placed fourth with a loss to Australia in the bronze game.)
“I would say Japan is the favourite in this event because of how they played their preseason leading up to it,” said Smith, “They defeated the U.S. – them and the U.S. would be the tournament favourites… Australia, Venezuela and a few other countries that, if they play well, are going to give you trouble.
“We’re capable of playing with and beating any of these teams, we just can’t be the first to make the mistakes that cost us runs and today we did that.”
As of Monday morning, only three teams, including Japan, remain undefeated. China and the U.S.A. are also 3-0.
The nine-time world champion U.S.A. team hasn’t had a run scored on them yet. They have defeated Puerto Rico 13-0, Czech Republic 10-0 and Venezuela 7-0.
The Czech Republic, South Africa and Mexico are the only teams without a win thus far.
In their section of the championships, Canada shares its 2-1 record with New Zealand and Australia, teams Canada will play on Tuesday and Wednesday. Canada is set to play Great Britain (1-2) tonight at 7 p.m. and Italy on Thursday.
“It’s really nice, I really like it,” said Matthews of playing in Whitehorse. “We walk around town and you have people honking at you, people cheering you on. So it’s always exciting and we really appreciate the support.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org