Canada routs Australia to earn pivotal Olympic softball win
Victory sets up crucial game against No. 2 Japan on Sunday at 1:30 a.m. ET
Canada's women's softball team beat Australia 7-1 on Saturday in Japan, putting itself in prime position to play for the country's first-ever Olympic medal.
The victory pushed third-ranked Canada's record to 2-1 in the five-game round robin, with games against No. 2 Japan on Sunday at 1:30 a.m. ET and No. 9 Italy still to come. No. 8 Australia falls to 1-2 with the loss.
The top two teams following the round robin play for gold, while the third- and fourth-place teams battle for bronze.
Now, a Canadian upset of Japan on Sunday could fuel the team's gold-medal hopes, while a loss would still have it on track for the bronze-medal game if it beats Italy.
WATCH | Canada cruises past Australia:
After falling behind 1-0 early against Australia, Canada rallied for six consecutive runs — three each in the first and second innings — to pull away.
"I think it was a team effort," said third baseman Emma Entzminger. "We talked [before the game] about stringing hits together as an offence. The pitchers have been fantastic and our goal as an offence was to string it together and that's exactly what we did."
Following outfielder and co-captain Victoria Hayward's walk and steal in the first, an Australian throwing error allowed Hayward to score from second. Two batters later, first baseman Jenn Salling sent a ground-rule double to straightaway centre field, scoring a pair and knocking Australian starter Ellen Roberts out of the game after just one out.
Canada added to its lead in the second when another Australian error led to one run before shortstop Erika Polidori launched a two-run double of her own.
Entzminger drove in Canada's final run with a fourth-inning single to score Kelsey Harshman.
"[Australia] has been a team that over the years has always given us a fits," Canadian head coach Mark Smith said, referring to Australia's bronze-medal victory over Canada at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "We've come out on the wrong side of some of these games."
Starting her third straight game, Canadian pitcher Sara Groenewegen recorded only four outs after loading the bases in each of the first two innings. She was removed midway through an at-bat in the second inning following a long fly ball that landed barely foul in front of the outfield wall, replaced by Jenna Caira.
WATCH | Groenewegen's inspirational journey to Tokyo:
"The bottom line is [the hitter] just about hit the ball out of [the] ballpark," said Smith. "With Jenna's off-speed pitch, that's the great equalizer."
Caira completed 4-2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out three. Lauren Bay-Regula tossed a clean seventh inning to secure the victory.
"So proud of her," said Salling. "She did such a good job of keeping them off balance. Most importantly, she came in with confidence. You could just feel her energy and her confidence.
"It's just very contagious."
Canada rebounded from Thursday's 1-0 loss to the No. 1 United States on a sweltering morning at Yokohama Baseball Stadium that saw the humidex touch 35 C.
Saturday's win, then, was a redemption of sorts.
"I think it's just what we needed after our last game. We've always had a tough time with the Aussies at the Olympics unfortunately, but we made a statement out there," Entzminger said.
Canada has never won a medal in Olympic softball, while Australia and the U.S. are the only countries to stand on the podium at all four Games where the sport has featured — 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Softball and baseball have been scratched for Paris in 2024, but there's a good chance both will return four years later in Los Angeles.
While the Olympics officially opened Friday, the first two days of softball were held about 240 kilometres from the main sites in Fukushima before switching to Yokohama for the remainder of the event.
Located about 30 km south of Tokyo's Olympic Park, the venue is home to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of Japanese baseball's Central League. The 34,046-seat facility — devoid of fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic — has played host to a long list of musical acts since opening in 1978, including Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Madonna.
Japan, the 2008 gold medallists, is a "very, very disciplined" squad, according to Smith.
"We're going to have to come up with a very good, strategic ball game. We look forward to that."
In other action Saturday, the U.S. (3-0) beat No. 5 Mexico (0-3) by a 2-0 score, while Japan (3-0) secured a 5-0 victory over Italy (0-3).
With files from The Canadian Press