Osterman leads USA Softball to World Championship title
BEIJING -- The USA Softball team was crowned World Champions for the sixth consecutive time after defeating Japan, 3-0, in the gold medal game Tuesday at the IX International Softball Federation's (ISF) Women's World Championship.
Former University of Texas National Player of the Year, lefthanded pitching ace Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas) out-dueled Japan's Yukiko Ueno in the title game. Osterman struck out 14 – including all three batters in the seventh inning to end the game in dramatic fashion - and allowed just one hit, as a one-out single in the bottom of the fourth spoiled her no-hit effort.
Osterman emerged as the ace of the USA staff, compiling a perfect 6-0 record during the World Championship run.
The win solidifies the USA's position as the No. 1 team in the world and earns it the top seed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The USA finished 10-1 at the 2006 Worlds, while Japan went 9-1. Tuesday's win by the USA was a rematch of the 2002 World Championship Grand Final when the U.S. defeated Japan 1-0 to earn its fifth consecutive World Championship.
Team USA had to win two games on Tuesday to earn their sixth consecutive World Championship title after Japan upset the USA, 3-1, on Sept. 4 to advance to the gold-medal game. That loss was the first for the USA in a World Championship since 1998 when it lost, 2-1, to Australia in 12 innings in the second round of the playoffs.
That Japanese win forced the USA to play Australia early Tuesday, and the American defeated the Aussies, 5-1, giving Australia the bronze-medal while advancing the USA into the championship (Grand Final) contest.
"It's an honor to be given the ball in both games today," stated Osterman when contacted from Beijing just hours after her pitching masterpiece. "I knew what Coach (Mike Candrea) expected out of me, and I just wanted to have consistent performances for the team. It's awesome to win the World Championship, and keep the US ranked #1 in the world! I haven't felt that much excitement after a strikeout as I did on the last out tonight."
In the USA-Japan championship game, Osterman struck out three of the first six batters she faced. A lead-off walk to Megu Hirose in the bottom of the third provided Japan with their first baserunner of the game, but U.S. catcher Stacey Nuveman erased the threat with a snap throw to first that nailed Hirose. Osterman took care of the final two batters by recording her fourth and fifth strikeouts of the game.
Japan broke up Osterman's bid for a no-hitter in the bottom of the fourth inning when Emi Naito singled up the middle but no damage was done as Osterman got Eri Yamada to pop up and made Satoko Mabuchi her sixth strikeout of the game.
The USA left runners on base in the third and fourth innings, and entered the top of the sixth in a 0-0 tie. In the sixth, however, the USA struck for its three runs. With one out, shortstop Natasha Watley laid down a perfect bunt and leftfielder Jessica Mendoza, who leads the USA in almost every possible offensive category, came through with a line drive home run to right field to give the Americans a 2-0 lead. One batter later, designated player Crystal Bustos, batting cleanup, added an insurance run with a blast deep over the left field fence for the 3-0 edge.
Osterman took care of the rest by striking out nine of the final 10 batters she faced, including striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh.
Osterman was highly impressive during the World Championships, going a perfect 6-0 with wins over sixth-place Italy, fifth-place Canada, fourth-place China, third- place Australia and runner-up Japan. She pitched 41 of the 66 total innings for the United States, allowing just three earned runs while striking out 70.
Mendoza and Bustos were the offensive juggernauts for the USA. Mendoza finished the championship with a .500 batting average (16-for-32), five home runs, 14 runs scored and 16 RBI. Bustos ended the championship with a .500 batting average (17-for-34, six doubles, two home runs, 10 runs scored and 14 RBI.
"Its amazing what 24 hours can do. Softball is a very humbling sport and you have to get used to the highs and lows. The three of these ladies up here today, Cat (Osterman), Jessica (Mendoza) and (Crystl) Bustos are veterans in my eyes," said USA head coach Mike Candrea. "And games like today are what veterans do. They come through in tough situations. It was a great game and they performed very well against a very good team. We needed to be at our best today and the team was."
"We learned a lot here. The venue here is very good and just needs a couple minor tweaks. They volunteers are great and well organized here," Candrea noted of his team's experience. "It was a great experience for us and will be helpful in us planning for 2008. This has been a tremendous three weeks for us and the people of Beijing have been wonderful."