USA opens World Cup by dominating Puerto Rico


Published:

Team USA's Brittany Gomez (left) and Jade Gortarez celebrate after scoring the game's first two runs on a triple by Malaika Underwood in what would become a 14-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the Women's Baseball World Cup at the USSSA Space Coast Complex Wednesday night.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Stacy Piagno has pitched in three previous Women’s World Cup baseball tournaments and a Pan Am Games for Team USA over the course of her career.

But this was a first.

When the right-hander took the mound Wednesday night for her team’s opening game of the 2018 World Cup tournament at the USSSA Space Coast Complex, it marked the first time the United States wasn’t just the home team on the scoreboard.

It was the home country.

And what a night it was as Piagno threw a five-inning shutout and the U.S. scored 11 runs in the first inning on the way to a 14-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

“(There was) definitely a lot of excitement,” Piagno said. “A lot of us are really excited to have the cup here and get a chance for all of our friends and family to finally get a chance to come see us, because it’s usually hard for them to come out.

“For me, personally, I was just trying to stay zone with all that excitement. Just trying to focus on the catcher and on the game and not trying to let all those outside emotions affect me.

“It ended up being a good night.”

Malaika Underwood, Alison Hamilton and Megan Baltzell all drove in three runs for Team USA, which forced Puerto Rico to use three different pitchers in the first inning alone.

Piagno, meanwhile, allowed four hits while striking out six.

“We were excited to get back out on the field and compete,” Team USA manager Matt Weagle said. “I’m happy with how the girls held their emotions in (check) and battled through some at-bats. They weren’t trying to do too much at the plate. They were just (taking) what was given to them, they went ahead and had a good approach and did what we asked them to.”

The United States, which failed to medal at the 2016 world cup in Gijang, South Korea, comes into this year’s tournament ranked No. 3 in the world behind five-time defending cup champion Japan and second-ranked Canada.

The 12-team tournament is divided into two pools. Pool A features the United States along with No. 5 Venezuela, No. 6 Chinese Taipei, No. 7 Korea, No. 8 The Netherlands and No. 13 Puerto Rico.

Japan, Canada and No. 4 Australia make up what figures to be a highly competitive Pool B along with Cuba, Hong Kong and the Dominican Republic.

With an excellent pitching performance, solid defense and an opportunistic offense, Team USA certainly looked like a club that could advance deep into the tournament.

After Brittany Gomez walked and Jade Gortarez was hit by a pitch to lead off the game, Underwood tripled to put the U.S. out front. Baltzell would hit a two-run double in the inning as Team USA took a 9-0 lead before making an out.

As well as Piagno pitched, she got some defensive help from third baseman Michelle Cobb – who made several nice plays – along with fellow infielders Gortarez, Amanda Gianelloni and Underwood.

While Japan is clearly the team to beat, Weagle made it clear Team USA won’t be overlooking anyone as it tries to get through pool play and advance to the super round.

Piagno is eager to see what this version of the U.S. team can do.

“I feel like I say this every year, but I’m really excited about the group of girls that we have,” she said. “I feel like we have an awesome team. It doesn’t matter who is out there, whether you’re a traditional starter or a backup – I feel our backups are as good as our starters.

“Having that comfort with this team makes it so much easier, and that trust that we have.”

In other games Wednesday, Japan defeated the Dominican Republic 8-0; Chinese Taipei beat Venezuela 9-1; Canada topped Hong Kong 4-0; Korea edged The Netherlands 9-8 and the Australia-Cuba game was suspended with Australia leading 5-4 in the bottom of the fourth.

That game will resume today as pool play continues.

The United States will take on The Netherlands at 6 p.m.

Brittany Schutte will make her first-ever World Cup start for Team USA.