The Aussie Spirit lived up to their world ranking with a fourth-place finish at the XVI Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan.
In a dramatic penultimate day of the championship, which is also a potential qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the Australian team survived a heart-stopping game against Mexico before snatching a last-gasp 2-1 win.
That walk-off win eliminated Mexico and guaranteed the Aussie Spirit would finish no lower than fourth.
Needing to beat Canada to earn at least a bronze medal, the Aussie Spirit, ranked fourth in the world, came up short against the third-ranked Canadian team.
The medals will be decided tomorrow between top-ranked USA, No. 2-ranked Japan and Canada.
The winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Japan, as hosts, automatically qualify, so if they win the World Championship then the runners-up will qualify for the Olympics.
The Aussie Spirit will play in an Asia-Oceania qualifying tournament in 2019 to earn the right to compete in Tokyo. The date and venue of the qualifying tournament are yet to be decided.
Game Nine: Australia 2, Mexico 1
For the seven regulation innings, this was the classic pitchers’ duel and Australia’s Kaia Parnaby and Mexico’s Dallas Escobedo produced outstanding performances.
At that stage the Aussie Spirit had combined for only two hits, both singles, to Clare Warwick and Chelsea Forkin.
With scores tied at 0-0 after seven innings, the game took a couple of dramatic twists. In the top of the eighth, with a runner placed on second, Mexico took the lead on a double by Koral Costa. Eliyah Flores also doubled, but Costa held up at third. Parnaby then induced two ground balls to limit the deficit to one run.
Amid almost unbearable tension, the Aussie Spirit began the bottom of the eighth inning with Melinda Weaver placed on second base. A sacrifice bunt by Stacey McManus turned out better than expected as Escobar made a fielding error. McManus moved to second when Mexico elected to walk Stacey Porter, loading the bases for Leigh Godfrey.
Godfrey took a 1-2 pitch and hammered it to right-centre field, scoring Weaver and McManus and sending the Aussie Spirit bench and fans into raptures.
Parnaby ended up pitching eight innings, giving up five hits and one walk, with eight strikeouts. Escobedo was almost as good, allowing three hits and one walk, with six strikeouts.
Game 10: Aussie Spirit 0, Canada 12
In stark contrast to the earlier game against Mexico, in which hits were scarce and runs even more so, this was a blowout as the Canadian offence jumped to an early lead and never let up.
A five-run first inning, highlighted by home runs by Jenn Salling and Larissa Franklin, set the scene for an offensive onslaught.
Australian pitchers Kaia Parnaby, Justine Smethurst and Amelia Cudicio couldn’t stop the runs coming, while Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie was at the top of her game.
Tarni Stepto, at 18 the youngest player on the Spirit team, gave a glimpse of the future as she shut down the Canadians over the final 1.2 innings.
Offensive highlights were hard to find, although another youngster, pinch-hitter Tamieka Whitefield, came close to a home run when she launched a double to deep left field, sending the Canadian outfielder crashing through the fence.
Leigh Godfrey’s triple and Samantha Poole’s single were the only other hits for the Aussie Spirit.