The United States women's softball team came from behind to defeat Japan, 2-1, on Monday, wrapping up round-robin play at the Tokyo Olympics with a bang. The win gives the U.S. the hammer -- the right to bat last -- in the gold medal game against Japan on Wednesday.
Offense was again sparse for the Americans, who trailed 1-0 heading into the final two frames.
But the United States staged a three-hit, one-run rally to knot the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, setting the stage for Kelsey Stewart's fireworks in the bottom of the seventh. Stewart connected on Team USA's first big fly of the Games. The 26-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, rounded the bases with arms spread wide and came to an emphatic jump stop on home plate. Her teammates welcomed her and the celebration commenced.
In a startling stat, the United States did not record a hit until the sixth inning facing Japan's third-string pitcher.
"Get 'em on, get 'em over and get 'em in. That's they way we've played and won games. Timely hitting," U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. "I wish we could have 18 runs, but we're playing against great pitching."
In the gold-medal game, they will face the host nation's 39-year-old ace, Yukiko Ueno.
Team USA is getting it done in round-robin play, but not on the team's offensive strength. The Americans scored nine runs on 27 hits with just the one home run by Stewart. By contrast, Japan scored 18 runs on 26 hits with six home runs.
The gold-medal game will be a rematch of the 2008 Beijing gold-medal game in which Japan was victorious, 3-1.
The two softball powerhouses are the only two teams to have captured Olympic gold. The rivals have met in each of the last seven World Baseball Softball Confederation world championships; Team USA has taken five of them.