Smooth was not part of the process. Perhaps that made the celebration even sweeter after the United States softball team battled its way to a gritty 3-2 World Games Gold Medal victory over Japan on Wednesday night in front of a crowd of more than 8,000 at the Hoover Met.
“You can’t write it any better than this,” said U.S. captain Haylie McCleney, a graduate of nearby Mortimer Jordan High.
It was not a surprise that the two best softball teams in the world once again met on a big stage. In this tournament, the U.S. came in after outscoring its first four opponents, 28-2. Japan had a 29-1 advantage in its first four games. They tend to run into each other in the biggest international competition. In 2020, it was Japan earning Olympic gold with a 2-0 victory over the United States.
This time, though, the United States found a way to squeeze out a win.
All of the United States’ run production came on one swing of the bat in the bottom of the second inning. Janae Jefferson, a 23-year-old Texas native who just finished her final season at the University of Texas, provided the runs by slicing a two-out, bases-loaded double through left-centerfield and to the wall. Charla Echols, Bubba Nickles and Kinzie Hansen all came around to score.
U.S. starter Monica Abbott battled her way through four innings. The 36-year-old Abbott, who played collegiately at Tennessee and has been a mainstay on the national team for many years, consistently found her way into trouble and consistently found a way to escape. She stranded 10 runners, got out of a pair of bases-loaded jams and only allowed one run. The run came on a third-inning single by Minori Naito.
In the fifth inning, Naito led off with a single down the left field line. Abbott left the game at that point with Ally Carda coming in from the bullpen. The UCLA product allowed an RBI single before striking out two of the next three hitters to wiggle out of trouble.
In the following inning, Carda walked the first batter before striking out the next three. Current Alabama ace Montana Fouts was warmed up and ready to go if needed.
"They said everybody 'be ready' and I feel that's what a great team is all about," Fouts said. "I was just ready if I needed to (pitch) but they were doing a great job."
Carda finished it herself. She closed out the game in the seventh by striking out the first two batters and getting the final batter to pop up to the mound.
Once Carda had the ball in her glove, it touched off a wild celebration on the field and in the stands. On a special night for softball, there was no better ending for the Americans.
"Alabama has the best softball fans in the whole world and I think they showed that today," Fouts said.
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