After a year-long delay due to COVID-19, the wait was finally over for Team USA softball. They shut out Team Italy 2-0 on Tuesday, July 20 at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in the first event of the Tokyo Olympics.
Arizona Wildcats catcher Dejah Mulipola and first baseman Giulia Koutsoyanopulos are used to being teammates, but today they found themselves on opposite sides of the field with Mulipola with USA and Koutsoyanopulos with Italy.
When the game began, Team USA took the field at the Olympics for the first time since 2008, which was the last Olympics softball was played in. Pitcher Catherine Osterman was part of that 2008 silver medal team and was thrilled to be back in Olympic competition.
“It has made me appreciate the grind,” Osterman told NBCSN. “Just to be able to enjoy the game, because the first part of my career was so serious. There was not a lot of laughing or smiling, but I am definitely enjoying the game more now.”
Osterman stepped into the circle and came out strong, striking out the first two batters she faced. Up in the count 1-2 on designated hitter Emily Carosone, Osterman sent a pitch too high inside and plunked Carosone to give Italy their first base runner of the game. Osterman quickly regained composure and got catcher Erika Piancastelli to fly out in the very next at-bat.
USA saw their first round of offensive action against pitcher Greta Cecchetti. Center fielder Haylie McCleney reached first base on an error, setting them up with an opportunity to score early. After that Cecchetti got the next two batters out but surrendered a walk to first baseman Valerie Arioto to put runners on first and second with two outs. Second baseman Ali Aguilar had a chance to put runs on the board but grounded out to third to end the inning.
Koutsoyanopulos got her first taste of Olympic play in the top of the second inning, but Osterman struck her out. After that, both teams went quiet with neither offense having a hit through the first three innings.
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Things started to get going for USA in the bottom of the fourth when Arioto got the first hit of the game to give USA a baserunner with no outs. Aguilar laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Arioto to second, bringing up designated player Michelle Moultrie with a runner in scoring position. Moultrie hit the first pitch she saw into right field for an RBI single to give USA a 1-0 lead.
Italy countered in the top of the fifth inning when second baseman Andrea Filler got the first hit of the game for Italy. That was as close as Italy got to a rally as Osterman got the next three batters out, including Koutsoyanopulos who would finish her Olympic debut 0-2 with two strikeouts.
Cecchetti ran into trouble again in the bottom of the fifth inning when a throwing error allowed catcher Aubree Munro to reach second base to start the inning. McCleney singled the following at-bat to put runners on the corners with no outs. That was it for Cecchetti, finishing with a final line of 4.0 innings with four hits, two runs, one strikeout and one walk.
Pitcher Alexia Lacatena would come on in relief for Italy and face left fielder Janie Reed. Reed was able to lift a 1-2 pitch deep enough into center field to score Munro and give USA a 2-0 lead. The Americans would leave the bases loaded, but Osterman had their backs and shut down team Italy the rest of the way. Osterman would finish the day with 6.0 innings, allowing one hit, zero runs and nine strikeouts.
“It was pure excitement,” Osterman told NBCSN. “We were not getting hits, but we were having good at-bats. We did not hit the panic button … and now the goal is to build from it.”
Pitcher Monica Abbott came in to close out the game in the top of the seventh inning to face Piancastelli. After getting ahead in the count 0-2, the umpires came together and determined that Abbott stepped off the rubber with her front foot, which is illegal in Olympic play. That brought the count to 1-1 for Piancastelli and gave Italy a bit of life. Then Abbott adjusted her footing and struck out the side to secure the save and victory for Team USA. Third baseman Kelsey Stewart feels the close connections the team has with each other is the key to success at these Olympic Games.
“We are just one big family,” Stewart told NBCSN. “We have one common goal. It is cool that we can have out differences, but then as soon as we step on that field, we are one family and we are going to war together.”
Mulipola did not make an appearance in the game against Italy.
Team USA will face Team Canada in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on Wednesday, July 21 at 5 p.m. MST on NBCSN.
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