Junior Spirit off to a perfect start at World Championship

Montana Kearnes bats against the Netherlands at the Junior Women's Softball World Championship in Clearwater, Florida.

Junior Spirit off to a perfect start at World Championship

The first day of the 2017 WBSC Junior Women’s World Championship in Florida could hardly have gone better for Australia, who won both games with impressive performances.

Whether they had to overcome a big deficit and beat Peru by coming from behind, or taking an early lead against the Netherlands and holding on with solid pitching and defence, the Junior Spirit found ways to come out on top.

Game One: Australia 12, Peru 5

A quick glance at the above score would give a totally wrong impression of this game. What looks like a comfortable win was anything but, as the Junior Spirit found themselves down 5-0 after three innings.

A combination of strong hitting and wayward pitching allowed the underdogs Peru to score five runs, with Emma Medina’s bases-loaded triple doing the most damage.

Facing such a deficit, the Australians needed to lift. And they did, starting with a leadoff single by Tia Waters in the fourth inning. Montana Kearns also singled, and Brianna Trim reached on a fielding error. With bases loaded, Maddison Schofield cleared them with a triple, then scored on a single by Shannon Keevers for the Junior Spirit’s fourth run of the inning.

Peru failed to score in the fourth but still led 5-4 going into the fifth. That’s when the Junior Spirit turned on the offensive power. They scored eight runs in the inning, with Tarni Stepto’s grand slam the highlight.

The Australians had 14 hits for the game. Waters led the way with three, while Schofield, Stepto, Kearns and Tamieka Whitefield each had two.

Stepto capped off her impressive offensive game with some great pitching in relief of starter Gabrielle Plain. Stepto earned the win with 2.1 innings during which she did not allow a base runner and struck out four.

Game Two: Australia 3, Netherlands 0

With the nerves out of the way, the Junior Spirit went to work early in their second game against tough opponents.

Gabrielle Plain put aside any lingering issues from the earlier game and pitched brilliantly for five innings, striking out 11 batters while allowing just two hits and one walk.

Tarni Stepto earned her first save with two innings of shutout pitching, allowing just one hit and no walks, while striking out three.

The Junior Spirit wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Maddison Schofield led off the first inning with a walk but was thrown out at home trying to score on a fielding error. Shannon Keevers, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, opened the scoring by scampering home on a wild pitch.

The score remained 1-0 in a tight contest until the fourth inning. Rhiannon Kemp led off with a single and was bunted over by Tamieka Whitefield. The bunt play worked even better than planned, as an error by the Netherlands catcher allowed Whitefield to reach third and for Kemp to score. When Montana Kearns hit a sacrifice fly that scored Whitefield, Australia led 3-0.

Amber Hood,  Maddison Smith and Kemp  all singled after that, but none could score. No matter, as the Junior Spirit defence backed up the good work of Plain and Stepto to ensure a second Australian win on day one.