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Olympics

US softball clinches spot in gold-medal game vs. Japan after perfect run

Cat Osterman, whose number matches her age, pitched six innings of one-hit ball in the 2-0 win Saturday.
Cat Osterman, whose number matches her age, pitched six innings of one-hit ball in the 2-0 win Saturday.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Amanda Chidester hit a game-ending, two-run single in the eighth inning, Monica Abbott struck out 13, and the United States beat Australia, 2-1, on Sunday to clinch a berth in the Olympic softball gold-medal game.

Australia scored the first run off the Americans in the tournament when Jade Wall walked on eight pitches with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth.

With pinch-runner Ally Carda on second as the automatic runner in the bottom half, leadoff hitter Haylie McCleney reached on an infield single to shortstop off Tarni Stepto. McCleney reached in all four plate appearances and in 13 of 15 over the Americans’ four games.

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Janie Reed sacrificed for the fourth time in the tournament, and Chidester singled to the back of the baseball infield dirt at Yokohama Stadium as both runners scored.

Abbott (2-0) gave up three hits and walked six — two of them intentional — while throwing 126 pitches. She has given up four hits in 17 innings with 28 strikeouts, improving to 5-0 in her Olympic career.

The top-ranked US team (4-0), which has scored just six runs in four games, plays defending champion Japan on Monday in a game that likely will only determine which team bats last in Tuesday’s gold-medal game. Japan (3-0) could clinch a berth in that game when it plays Canada (2-1) later Sunday.

On Saturday, Cat Osterman, 38, pitched six innings of one-hit ball and Abbott struck out the side in the seventh, helping the US team shut out Mexico, 2-0.

Ali Aguilar provided a two-run single in the third that was just enough for the Americans.

“I’m here so they can win a gold medal because I already have one,” said Osterman, the last player remaining from the 2004 champions. “I want to see how they feel and how they react after we are able to possibly do that.”

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Osterman didn’t pitch competitively from 2016-18. Turned down for a job in the US coaching pool in 2016 after she retired as a player, Cat Osterman found she was not angry.

“I had to do a gut check,” she said. “If I’m not upset about not being selected, why do I want to be in the coaching pool? And then if I don’t want to be in the coaching pool, why is that?”

So she’s back in the Olympics, and not just throwing, but dominating.

Monica Abbott (center right) and Cat Osterman embrace after defeating Mexico on Saturday.
Monica Abbott (center right) and Cat Osterman embrace after defeating Mexico on Saturday.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

“We have a really tight family, and the two tall trees that are pitchers for us right now, they’ve kind of taken on the moniker of fire and ice,” US coach Ken Eriksen said.

Osterman, sitting next to him, quickly added: “She’s obviously fire, not me.”

Osterman (2-0), who like Abbott is 6 foot 3 inches, has allowed two hits in 12 innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk, throwing 169 pitches.

“Once the idea was kind of in my head and my family was fully on board, my dad was like, ‘I told you you should have done this the whole time,’ ” she said of her renewed playing career. “So I had a bunch of I told you so’s, but it was just a gut check that I was making sure to do it for the right reasons.”

Abbott, a lanky Big Unit-like lefty, turns 36 Wednesday.

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“Obviously they have a great pitching staff,” said Mexican reliever Danielle O’Toole, a former member of the US national team program. “There’s a reason why, especially Cat and Monica, have been for playing so long, is because they are smart. They’re very intelligent people.”

Osterman struck out four, walked one, and hit a batter. Pitching without a cap and with a white towel dangling from her back pocket on a 90-degree, humid afternoon, she retired her final 15 batters.

She escaped her only trouble in the second, when Suzannah Brookshire worked out an eight-pitch walk leading off and Victoria Vidales reached on an infield single that went off the glove of Kelsey Stewart at third. Chelsea Gonzales fouled out, Sashel Palacios took a called third strike, and Stefania Aradillas struck out.

“She’s throwing butterflies like that, trying to catch them in the wind as a hitter, that’s kind of tough,” Eriksen said.

Haylie McCleney (in red batting helmet) celebrates after scoring against Mexico.
Haylie McCleney (in red batting helmet) celebrates after scoring against Mexico.KAZUHIRO FUJIHARA/AFP via Getty Images

Mexico, a team with many US college players and veterans of the American player development program, dropped to 0-3 in its first Olympic tournament.

After a day off, the action shifted to Yokohama Stadium, the 34,046-capacity downtown home of the Central League’s Baystars, which opened in 1978. With artificial turf, high fences, and a symmetrical outfield, it resembles 1960s and ’70s cookie-cutter stadiums such as Philadelphia’s Veterans, Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers, and Cincinnati’s Riverfront.

McCleney had two more hits and is 6 for 9. Mexico shortstop Anissa Urtez, who is engaged to Chidester, made a diving backhand stop to rob McCleney of a hit leading off the fifth.

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Dejah Mulipola, getting her first start, walked leading off the third and McCleney singled before O’Toole replaced Dallas Escobedo.

O’Toole struck out Janie Reed and got Chidester to ground out, then intentionally walked Valerie Arioto. Aguilar followed with a single to center.