Defense highlights U.S. victory over Venezuela


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Team USA second baseman Amanda Gianelloni makes a diving catch in the seventh inning of Saturday's Women's Baseball World Cup game against Venezuela at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. The U.S. team won the game 3-1.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

After three consecutive lopsided victories, Team USA ran into its first major challenge at this year’s Women’s Baseball World Cup tournament.

And oh, what a game it was.

Venezuela and the U.S. traded defensive highlight reel plays throughout the day – including a great diving catch by USA second baseman Amanda Gianelloni – but in the end it was Team USA that came away with the 3-1 win at the USSSA Space Coast Complex.

“This is just leading up to next week (in the super round) and future games where we’re going to face tougher competition,” Gianelloni said. “Venezuela gave us a really good match where we could work on some things we needed to work on.

“They’re a really good ballclub. They were going to challenge us. We did really well. I’m really happy about the outcome.”

The U.S., which is now 4-0 in pool play, had beaten its three previous opponents by a combined score of 43-1. But runs were much tougher to come by on Saturday, thanks in particular to several big plays by Venezuelan outfielders to take away potential extra-base hits.

Jade Gortarez delivered a two-run single in the second inning and Megan Baltzell blasted a ball well over the right field fence in the seventh to give Team USA all the runs it would need.

The rest was up to the defense, and the pitching of starter Marti Sementelli, who had to not only a tough Venezuela lineup but two lightning delays that had her warm up twice before finally taking the mound more than three hours after the game’s original start time.

“We have kind of a loose atmosphere in the locker room,” Sementelli said. “We were listening to music, playing games and trying to keep our minds off the distractions.

“I was kind of secluded from everyone else, just trying to stay focused and in the zone. I had to warm up a couple of times, but that’s just part of the cup. Whoever is going to perform at the highest level with all the distractions is going to win the gold.”

Team USA manager Matt Weagle was pleased with the way his team was able to handle Saturday’s lightning delays. The first delayed the start of the game. The second came in the top of the first just after Baltzell drew a two-out walk.

“I’ll be honest, every game we’ve played so far we haven’t been in our normal routine,” Weagle said. “We’ve prepped these girls for that going into this tournament. We can’t let the small things go ahead and affect the product on the field.

“I think that’s a testament to our veteran leadership.”

Sementelli did not record a strikeout in her six innings of work, but the right-hander was able to do a good job of keeping the Venezuelan hitters off-balance and letting her defense do the rest.

“I had a lot of adrenaline pumping,” Sementelli said. “I really trust my fielders 100 percent. I just know if I throw strikes, that’s what’s winning ballgames – and not giving people free passes. That was my approach.”

Sementelli was also involved in a big play at the plate to end the second inning. After Venezuela scored to cut Team USA’s lead to 2-1, a pitch from Sementelli got away from catcher Anna Kimbrell.

As Venezuela’s Yohelis Colina Riera came racing down from third to try to score the game-tying run, Sementelli covered the plate, took the throw from Kimbrell and tagged out the runner for the inning’s final out.

Venezuela would also threaten in the bottom of the fifth inning, but on an attempted double steal, the batter was called out for interfering with Kimbrell’s throw to third base.

Meggie Meidlinger took over for Sementelli in the seventh inning and walked the lead-off batter.

Colina Riera then lined a ball that looked like it was going to get through the infield … that is, until Gianelloni ranged far to her left and made a spectacular diving catch for the out, then threw to first for the double play.

It was the third double play of the day for the U.S. and highlighted a part of the game that doesn’t always get talked about enough – defense.

Not only did the U.S. get a big play from Gianelloni at second, but third baseman Michelle Cobb was solid, Gortarez played well at short and Malaika Underwood made some great scoops at first base.

“You’re 100 percent right, it does get overlooked sometimes,” Weagle said. “We’re really pleased. Our outfield play has been tremendous and then to see some of those plays in the infield today. Amanda Gianelloni made a great play at second base.

“I think it’s just a testament to how hard they’ve worked in the last two years leading up to this cup.”

While Gianelloni’s play seemed to fire up the entire USA team, no one was more happy for her than Sementelli.

“That was my roommate,” the USA pitcher said. “A big shout out to my roomie, G Money as she goes by. It was really fun. It just gives us a lot of momentum going into the next game and the next round.”

The U.S., which has already qualified for next week’s Super Round, will close out pool play tonight at 6 p.m. against Chinese Taipei. Gortarez is scheduled to start on the mound for Team USA.