Japan is hoping that third time will be the charm in the gold medal softball game, but they have much to overcome for that to be true. To get to the gold medal game, they had to play 21 innings of softball in one day; nine in a loss the U.S. and 12 to win over Australia. They will also have to beat a dominant U.S. team who they have lost to twice already.
Cat Osterman will most likely start, and the Japanese team won't be happy to see her after she ended the extra inning semifinal game with three quick outs. Osterman's methodical style and textbook change-ups have been confounding hitters throughout the Olympics, giving her the most strikeouts in the preliminary round with 24, and an ERA of 0. Japan's Yukikko Ueno pitched all 21 innings against the U.S. and Australia. Though softball pitching does not wear an arm out in the same way baseball pitching does, I doubt that Japan would have Ueno pitch. Naho Emota pitched the preliminary round game against the U.S., and Japan should send her to the circle, considering her familiarity with U.S. hitters. Hiroko Samai, who has an ERA of 1.0, may also get the call.
Speaking of the hitters, the U.S. has been a force to reckon with from the plate. Crystl Bustos, who hit a three-run homerun in the semifinal, led the preliminary round in home runs (4), batting average (.563) and slugging percentage (1.313). Jessia Mendoza is the RBI leader with nine in the preliminary round. No Japanese players come close to the American's potency at the plate, but keep an eye open for slugger Satoko Mabuchi and the speedy Eri Yamada, who is a threat to steal.
Though the Japanese team is good, they will be worn down and facing one of the best softball teams of all time. The U.S. has so many different ways to beat a team, and they will use them all to win over Japan. No matter the outcome, this game will have a bittersweet feel to it for both teams since softball has been dropped from the 2012 Olympics. The game starts at 6:30 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, and MSNBC mentioned today that it will be aired live, though I assume only to the Eastern and Central time zones.
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