U.S. edges Japan, crushes Dominicans at Softball World Cup; Canada wins
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Tairia Flowers draws a few laughs from her U.S. teammates at the fact that she's wearing a contact lens in only one eye. Her production since making the change has been no joke.
Flowers continued an offensive tear with a tiebreaking two-run home run in the fourth inning, and the United States beat nemesis Japan 4-1 Saturday night at the World Cup of Softball.
"I just think it's helping me to sharpen things in. I'm not seeing extra spin or anything like that, but it's just making me zone in and see the ball," said Flowers, a first baseman from UCLA.
Flowers' line drive on the first pitch from Japanese reliever Mariko Masubuchi (0-1) barely cleared the 4-foot fence in right-center field to break a 1-1 tie. It was her second home run of the World Cup, following a grand slam one night earlier.
Flowers, who already was the MVP in the United States' 10-game sweep of the Canada Cup earlier this year, is 5-for-9 with 10 RBIs in four World Cup games. She's hitting 18-for-29 with five home runs and 20 RBIs this year.
"You can tell that she's worked hard, and right now she's playing the game with confidence," U.S. coach Mike Candrea said. "I feel like every time she walks up to the plate that she's going to hit the ball hard, and that's a good feeling."
With a little help from Johnson and Johnson, Flowers made the change before beginning play at the Canada Cup. She said her left eye proved to be more dominant.
"They're still a little irritating. I blink a lot on the field. Some of my teammates have been making fun of me about that, but I'm always trying to make sure it's still in there," Flowers said.
Lovieanne Jung added an RBI single on a line drive that ricocheted off Masubuchi's side with the bases loaded in the fifth. Monica Abbott and Jennie Finch combined on a five-hitter for the United States (4-0).
Including a 9-0 win against the Dominican Republic earlier Saturday, the U.S. has won 20 straight games. Five of the victories in that stretch have come against Japan, the team responsible for the Americans' last four losses. All four of those games were won by Japanese ace Yukiko Ueno, who didn't accompany the team to the World Cup.
Japan (2-1) beat the U.S. for the 2005 World Cup title, then lost to the Americans in last year's championship game.
Japan mounted a two-out rally in the third against Abbott (1-0) to tie the game at 1. Masumi Mishina singled to left and advanced to second on a passed ball. That allowed the inning to extend when U.S. shortstop Natasha Watley fielded Misato Kawano's grounder and threw late to third. Kawano took second without a throw, putting her in scoring position as Emi Naito came to the plate.
Naito lined a single to left to score Mishina, but catcher Jenny Topping fielded Jessica Mendoza's throw up the third base line and lunged to tag Kawano out.
Japan coach Haruka Saito said through an interpreter that Kawano should have held up at third but "there was a lot of pressure on her" and she had a difficult decision.
Kawano called the choice to try to score was her mistake.
The Americans' first run came in on Crystl Bustos' two-out RBI double in the first inning.
Earlier in the day, Vicky Galindo hit a three-run home run and Mendoza drove in three runs to power the U.S. to a 9-0 win against the Dominican Republic.
During an eight-run second inning, the U.S. had nine consecutive batters reach on either a hit or a walk -- including a two-run single by Mendoza and Galindo's first home run of the year to right-center field.
"I generally go up looking for base hits, hitting the gaps and hitting through the infield," said Galindo, who's been concentrating on improving her bunting and slap-hitting this year. "I think my home run, it was just a perfect pitch and I kind of just got through it."
Caitlin Lowe had three singles and scored twice, and Alicia Hollowell (1-0) threw three shutout innings. Finch struck out all six batters she faced in relief before the game ended after five innings because of the mercy rule.
Cristina Gwyn threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief for the Dominican Republic (0-4), which is making its first World Cup appearance. Luisa Nunez singled with one out in the first for the team's only hit.
Mendoza also had a sacrifice fly in the first inning to score Lowe. Mendoza had a 12-game hitting streak snapped in the second game.
Canada 5, China 1
Danielle Matthews homered and Noemie Marin drove in two runs as Canada kept its championship game hopes alive.
After being staked to a 3-0 first-inning lead, Danielle Lawrie (1-0) threw a four-hitter. Alison Bradley, Marin and Erin McLean each had RBI singles in the rally against China starter Li Qi (0-1).
China (1-2) scored its only run on Zhou Yi's RBI triple in the third inning.
Matthews added a leadoff home run in the fifth, and Marin drove in another run on a groundout for Canada, which would have to beat the U.S. on Sunday and have Japan lose at least one of its two remaining games to reach the title game.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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