With just over a year until the 2008 Beijing summer games, the U.S team is steamrolling over the competition. In fact, Team USA's toughest competition may come from within.
In addition to claiming a consecutive World Cup of Softball championship this year, the national team also uses the tournament to determine which players will make the Olympic squad. With the World Cup coming to an end a few players are moving up the ranks.
Taira Flowers, who has gone five for eleven with 11 runs batted in and two home runs, knows how important it is. “I’m trying to be confident every time I step into the box and look for good pitches. I definitely worked extra hard this past off season knowing I have this opportunity to step into the lineup.”
Vicky Galindo is also doing her best to seize her chance, with a batting average of .583, six runs batted in and one home run. "This is a big summer for me. We have our Olympic try outs coming up and I just want to make sure I secure my place on the team," Galindo emphasized. "I want to make sure I don’t make any errors or mental mistakes. I just want to play perfect ball."
Team USA has been playing perfect ball so far in the World Cup going undefeated in five games. Knowing their days are numbers, even secure players like Jennie Finch feel the pressure. “With the Olympics right around the corner--this is it. This is our time to shine, work hard and leave it all on the field,” Finch said.
Who has surprised you this season to earn a spot on the 2008 Olympic team?
Despite two appearances yesterday, Finch was able to accomplish what her fellow pitchers had not been able tonamely, pitch the first complete game of the World Cup of Softball. The effort came with six strike outs in six innings of work.
I tried to be specific with each pitch and make each pitch count, Finch described. I felt more comfortable as the game went on.
Part of the reason for her increased comfort level is the extra time shes had to work herself into dominant form after giving birth to her first child.
Last year I didnt have any time to prepare; I came back right after having Ace, Finch said. After you have babies your bones and muscles expand.
What was the remedy? The same work ethic that drove her success at Arizona. I spent a long year of hard work in the weight room. Just to have time to let everything get back to normal a lot of hard work has made a difference, commented Finch.
Hard work has also made a difference with Crystl Bustos. Teams have continually tried to throw her up and in, but she has responded with timely adjustments.
She launched a two-run home run to centerfield in the bottom of the first, providing all the offense the United States would need. When asked about her at-bat, Bustos explained, I caught it a little more inside than I wanted it. But I have the strength sometimes to muscle it out.
If Bustos continues to muscle it out, the U.S. should skate to a back-to-back World Cup win and poised for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Natasha Watley hit safely 395 times for UCLA--third-highest total in NCAA history--by exploiting the defense. The slap approach may be her most potent weapon in this regard.
Slapping is a hitting technique that relies on speed to beat out a ball put in play. Girls who are taught to slap must be fast runners, bat left-handed and keep the ball on the ground.
A slapper gets a running start out of the batting box--putting pressure on the defense to field it cleanly and get rid of it quickly. Because the batter is already moving when the make contact, they have a better chance to reach first base safely. When I teach it, it is two steps until you make contact, Watley explains. So make sure you time it so you get two steps and hit off of your left foot.
Often times, an exceptionally fast right-handed hitter will be turned around to the left side for the sole purpose of becoming a slapper. That was the case for Watley. I was naturally a righty. When I was 13 or 14 years-old, I switched to the left side and have been there ever since, Watley shared. It is tough to learn at first because its not something that comes natural. By being able to keep doing it, now its second nature for me to go left-handed and weird to go up right-handed.
Slappers are usually found at the top of the lineup as table-setters so the power hitters can bring drive them home. Watley is one of the most successful slappers in the world. At the World Cup of Softball last year, she turned in a .421 batting average with a team-high 10 runs scored. She is currently batting .583 at this years World Cup. She must be doing something right.
Stop me if you've heard this one before--the United States shut out the Dominican Republic 9-0 in another mercy rule-shortened game.
Alicia Hollowell wasted no time settling in on the mound. She gave up zero runs on one hit in her three innings of work.
Team USA got all the offense they would need in the second inning. The U.S. scored eight runs on nine hits--the biggest one coming from the bat of Vicky Galindo in the form of a three-run home run. "The hitting is contagious," Galindo explained. "But the important thing to do is be patient and look for your pitch."
Jennie Finch took over in the fourth inning. She was unhittable, striking out all six batters she faced.
Tonight the U.S. will face sterner competition against Japan in a re-match of the past two year's championship game.
For a pitcher who boasts 20 no-hitters and 10 perfect games in her collegiate career, giving up a hit and a walk in the first inning had the look of a shaky start.
Chinas Zou Zi managed a single off Cat Osterman on the first pitch of the game, but the offensive attack didnt last long as the U.S. cruised to an 8-0 victory in a mercy-rule shortened game.
Osterman made quick adjustments and gained strength as the game went on, finishing with seven strikeouts in a row. The biggest tip may not have been from head coach Mike Candrea, but from her dad who was rooting her on in the crowd.
Were not supposed to look in the stands, but my dad reminded me to spin the ball, Osterman said. He could tell I was over-throwing. After I realized that, I kind of relaxed and tried not to throw as hard and just spin it because thats what Im here to do and thats what Im known for.
She might have had good reason for starting the game a little rusty after two recent surgeriesone on her ankle and one on her shoulder. When asked how the shoulder felt she didnt seem too concerned. Its feeling ok. I just go back and forth as far as strength and how it feels, but its feeling good today.
Even if Osterman hadnt made adjustments, she would have likely gotten the win behind a U.S. team that has scored 17 runs in 10 innings. This time the fireworks were provided by Tairia Flowers fourth-inning grand slam. She continues her scorching offensive output from the Canada Cup last week where she batted a staggering .650. All year Ive been working hard and getting a lot of repetitions in, Flowers explained. My confidence just keeps building as our games go on.
The American team cant celebrate too much tonight as they will be back at it early tomorrow against the Dominican Republic in game one of a two-game set.
What is it like to be a rookie on the U.S. national softball team? For Caitlin Lowe, it meant having a bucket of balls hand-cuffed to her arm so she had to carry it around all day. For Jessica Mendoza, it meant finding her jersey in the toilet with a Baby Ruth bar and pineapple juice. For national team newcomer Jennie Ritter, it means something a little more practicalgetting in tune with two new catchers in three short weeks.
We have such a short time to get to know each other but theyve been both my roommates the past two weeks. Weve had a chance to sit and talk and I really like them, they know what theyre doing; they are really smart.
The last time Ritter stepped on the field at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium she led Michigan to the Womens College World Series title in 2005. I drove in and it brought back a lot of memories. I started thinking about the team and how great it was. Im hoping to continue the success.
One reason for her collegiate success was how closely she worked with her battery-mate, Becky Marx. I think with catchers, you have a serious relationship, explains Ritter. To be on the same wave length and understand each other--beyond just pitches--its kind of a big thing.
Most pitchers have a more of a struggle getting into a rhythm with catchers, but this was not the case for Ritter. Ritter and Marx had a head-start on their relationship having played together prior to college. It was cool catching for her because we would go an entire game and she would never shake off a pitch because she agreed with all of them, Marx shared. She wasnt a pitcher and I was the catcher--we had a good partnership and worked as a unit.
Now Ritter turns her attention to the World Cup of Softball where she is part of the most dominating pitching staff in international softball. When asked if she felt pressure as part of such a competitive rotation she replied, My thing right now is to control what I can control. Not be so worried what the team thinks or what the coaches think or what all the fans are hoping. My goal is to shut them down.
Ritter hasnt avoided the rookie pranks entirely. Laura Berg, the team prankster, slapped her on the shoulder and asked how her workout went. Thinking Berg was genuinely interested in how she was doing, Ritter later found out that Berg was more interested in putting a luggage tag on her back.
In the end, Ritter is here to get her job done and is happy and honored to be doing it. One of the great things about this team is that while there are rookies and veterans, theres not necessarily a big difference between them. Everyone on this team deserves to be here.
Crystl Bustos hit the ball so well, its almost as if she knew what pitch was coming. It turns out, that was exactly the case in a 9-1 United States victory over Venezuela.
It actually didnt get very high. It was a little bit flat. But it always helps knowing whats coming, joked Bustos. They dont think I understand Spanish but I understood what pitch was coming because the coach yelled it to the pitcher. If you watch in the camera my feet set up a certain way to help bring a pitch that I want, then I switch my feet before the pitcher throws the pitch.
In the beginning, it didnt look good for the U.S. Jennie Ritter promptly gave up her first earned run in international play with a lead-off solo homerun to Maria Soto to start the game. I think it was just jitters, Ritter explained, I missed on a curveball. I think I was just trying to be perfect.
Ritter settled down, striking out seven in three scoreless innings and was eager to keep pitching. I felt good from the second inning on. It just took a while to get the rhythm going. After that I felt real comfortable and ready to throw some more.
Bustos wasnt the only U.S. offensive threat. Natasha Watley went two for three hitting a triple in both the second and forth innings. Kelly Kretschman also hammered a homerun to the opposite field.
Venezuela did not threaten after the lead-off homerun--managing to earn one run on four hits. With a commanding lead, Alicia Hollowell took over the mound in the fifth inning to solidify the win. She closed the game quickly by striking out two of the three batters she faced.
United States will take on China, ranked fourth in the world, tomorrow at 7:00pm.
Side note: After the game, I found myself in line for the bathroom behind Kelly Kretschman and Laura Berg. Kretschman mentioned she received fifteen text messages during the game, most congratulating her on her homerun. They also pointed out a picture hanging on the wall near by of the 1996 national team, more specifically, how awesome Bergs long bangs looked in it. It was cool to see the players behind the scenes and share a laugh with them.
Canada knocks off Dominican Republic in World Cup opener
In the nightcap at the KFC World Cup of Softball, Canada knocked off the Dominican Republic, 3-0, to win its third consecutive opener at a World Cup. The teams were evenly matched offensively but a key extra base hit by Sheena Lawrick in the top of the fifth inning proved to be the difference in the game.
Canada put up two hits, one in the first and one in the fourth, but would not score until the fifth inning. With runners on first and third, Sheena Lawrick came through in the clutch with a two-RBI triple down the right field line that scored Jenn Salling and pinch-runner Janiva Willis. Lawrick scored the final run of the game off a single by Alison Bradley.
The Dominican Republican posted four hits in the loss but never got a runner past second base and ended up stranding five.
Canada’s Dione Meier picked up the win in the circle allowing just four hits in the shutout victory. Dominican starter Missy Penna, who will be a junior at Stanford next season, took the loss after allowing three runs off five hits and walking five.
Canada returns to action on Friday with a double-header starting with Japan at 11:30 a.m. before facing off with Venezuela at 2 p.m. The Dominican Republic is scheduled to play in the nightcap at 9:30 p.m. against Venezuela.
Japan topples Dominican Republic in opener at KFC World Cup
After having their opener pushed back over four hours due to thunderstorms in the Oklahoma City area, Japan was impressive posting an 8-0 win over the Dominican Republic.
Japan jumped out to a commanding 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning that was highlighted by an inside the park home run by Megu Hirose that plated three runs.
After a run in the third inning, Japan scored two runs in the top of the fourth inning to take an 8-0 lead.
Mika Someya earned the win in the circle for Japan allowing just three hits in five innings of work. It was her first career World Cup win.
Cristina Gwyn suffered the loss allowing eight runs on 11 hits while also walking four in five innings of work.
Japan opens day two of the World Cup at 11:30 a.m. CST versus Canada, while the Dominican faces off with Venezuela at 9:30 p.m. CST.
China Wins Behind Qi’s Arm
China won the first game of their KFC World Cup of Softball campaign thanks to a gem thrown by pitcher Li Qi tonight in Oklahoma City.
Qi, a 2004 Olympian, struck out nine batters en route to a one-hit complete game shutout over Venezuela, 4-0. Mariangee Bogado (0-2) gained the loss for Venezuela, after earning her first loss of the tournament earlier in the night against the U.S.
Qi was supported by a strong sixth-inning showing from her offense. Li Chun Xia hit a bases loaded single, scoring two runs, to deep centerfield to give the team a 2-0 lead. Zhang Li Fang singled to shallow center to bring in one more. The final run of the game scored off a wild pitch by Marianella Castellanos.
Venezuela (0-2) plays Friday at 2 p.m. vs. Canada (1-0). China (1-0) plays against the USA National Team (1-0) at 7 p.m.
Rain fell hard enough this morning to postpone the opening game of the World Cup of Softball from 11:30am to 6:00pm.
The ASA softball grounds crew put tarp down the night before but the rain was relentless through the original scheduled starting time for the Dominican Republic versus Japan game. A world-class facility, the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium boasts an efficient drainage system that allows the playing field to recover quickly from inclement weather.
The schedule originally divided today's games into two separate sessions, each consisting of two games. Due to the weather, the first session is to be played simultaneously as the second session on an alternate field.
The weather is now setting a scene for a pleasant evening of top-notch softball and fans are beginning to file in. I'm expecting the crowd to be unaffected by the delay and am looking forward to an electric night of competition.
Natasha Watley brings unparalleled speed to the national team. She is always a threat on the base paths, recording 158 career stolen bases in college--good enough to rank in the NCAA all-time top ten base stealers.
When asked what makes a great base stealer, Watley replied, "Just knowing and reading the situation you are in. It is important to know the pitcher, know how good the catcher's arm is and know who is covering the bag. Knowing if the second baseman or shortstop is covering can make a difference in how you slide. Those are different things you want to pay attention to."
Watley is no stranger to success. She broke the Olympic record for stolen bases with five in nine games at the 2004 Athens games. Having an aggressive mentality and getting a good jump off the base has helped her achieve her accomplishments. "Your first three steps are the most important," she describes. "I don't think I leave early, but I'd rather be caught leaving early than be caught being out at the bag."
The former Bruin led UCLA to a Women's College World Series title in 2003 and also won the Honda Award as the Nation's Top Collegiate Female Athlete. Watley looks to continue her base-swiping prowess tomorrow at the World Cup of Softball and jump start Team USA's winning ways.
Wonder how Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman seem to defy physics with their pitches? Heres a quick guide to the most commonly thrown pitches. Expect to see these pitches thrown by the best pitchers in the game at the World Cup of Softball.
Fastball The fastball is the foundation pitch. Its simplethrow it hard. Top softball pitchers throw their fastball around 70 miles per hour. That is roughly equivalent to a 100 mile per hour fastball in baseball. The idea is to throw a fastball with enough velocity to force the hitter into a late swing and cause them to foul it off or miss altogether. The grip maximizes wrist snap when the ball is released at the hip. Monica Abbott is a good example of someone who brings the heat with her fastball.
Riseball The riseball is unique to fastpitch softball and widely considered the most difficult pitch to hit. It starts out in the strike zone and breaks just before reaching the plateforcing the batter to pop up or miss it completely. Jennie Finch throws a dominant riseball.
Dropball The drop works the exact opposite of a riseball. This pitch initially looks attractive to the hitter only to drop out of the stikezone just before reaching the plate. If the batter does make contact, the dropball commonly results in a ground out. Look to national team newcomer Jennie Ritter to throw this pitch masterfully.
Curveball The curveball, as with most breaking pitches, is meant to have enough movement to cause the batter to chaseoften times well out of the strikezone. The curve moves away from the batter to the outside of the plate when thrown from a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed batter. This makes right-handed pull hitters especially susceptible to this pitch. Cat Osterman, a specialist at making batters chase her pitches out of the zone, has one of the nastiest curveballs around.
Change Up The change-up is a deceptive off-speed pitch that appears like a fastball but travels roughly 15 miles per hour slower. It is primarily used to keep the batter off-balance. The motion and mechanics as similar to the fastball. Alicia Hollowell has a very successful change-up that keeps hitters guessing.