Japan shuts out U.S. in World Cup baseball


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USA first baseman Malaika Underwood dives to tag first base in time to beat the runner during Tuesday's USA-Japan game at the Women's Baseball World Cup at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. Japan won the game 3-0.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

It was the wrong night for Team USA not to be at its absolute best.

Facing a Japan team that played nearly flawless defense and put pressure on them repeatedly with bunts, steals an all-around game befitting a winner of five consecutive Women’s Baseball World Cup titles, the USA saw its dreams of a gold medal likely dashed by a 3-0 loss.

Japanese pitcher Ayami Sato came within one out of a throwing a no-hitter.

The right-hander needed only 88 pitches to shut down a USA offense that had scored 43 runs in its first three tournament games.

The USA, meanwhile, committed three errors and struggled to get its footing early in what was essentially a must-win game for its gold medal hopes.

“Japan’s a great team,” USA manager Matt Weagle said. “You’ve got to play a clean game against them for all seven innings, and we didn’t. We went out there maybe a little timid early and were playing on our heels.

“They took it to us. We got punched in the mouth and we didn’t punch back.”

After the opening day of the Super Round, Japan and Chinese Taipei – which edged the Dominican Republic 2-1 on Tuesday – sit at the top of the standings with 3-0 records.

Canada is third with a 2-1 mark and the USA is now 1-2, having also lost to Chinese Taipei in the group round. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both 0-3.

Team USA will face Canada tonight at 6 in an effort to keep its hopes of a medal alive.

To do that, it will have to avoid some of the early mistakes that plagued the U.S. early against Japan.

“We came into the game feeling good,” USA right fielder Megan Baltzell said. “Then once the game started, we just kind of felt like we were on our heels, being a little defensive when we should have played our game.

“Instead, we let them dictate what we were doing, making sloppy plays on defense, even though Stacy (Piagno) pitched a hell of a game. You have to be clean against these teams, especially when every game counts.”

Piagno, making her second start of the 2018 World Cup for the U.S., held Japan’s high-powered offense to just six hits on the night and only gave up one earned run.

That came in the first inning when Japan’s Tomomi Nakada led off with an opposite field single, stole second and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Iori Miura.

Two USA errors and a wild pitch would lead to two more runs for Japan in the bottom of the second to make it 3-0.

The rest was all Sato as the Japanese pitcher completely shut down the USA offense.

Outside of two hit batters and a error by Japan that allowed Amanda Gianelloni to reach second base, the U.S. couldn’t generate any offense until Baltzell’s two-out single to center in the seventh inning.

Sato was able to keep U.S. hitters off-balance by doing a good job of mixing speeds and throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes to get ahead in the count.

“She attacks the zone early and she doesn’t have a lot of tendencies,” Weagle said. “She can throw all of her pitches for strikes. We knew that going in.

“They got on us early and it took us a while to feel comfortable at the at the plate.”