Canada's softball gold-medal hopes dashed in extra-inning loss to Japan
Women will play for bronze; Japan to face U.S. for gold
Canada's gold-medal hopes in softball ended with a 1-0 extra-innings loss to host Japan on Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Canadians fell to 2-2 while No. 2-ranked Japan extended its record to 4-0 ahead of a gold-medal matchup against the top-ranked Americans, who are also 4-0.
"Sorry, I'm crying," Canadian pitcher Sara Groenewegen said following the gut-wrenching defeat. "This is a phenomenal group of women. We're gritty. We love each other."
Canada, meanwhile, has clinched a spot in the bronze contest against Australia or Mexico and will play its final round-robin game against Italy on Monday at 1:30 a.m. ET.
Canada has never won a softball medal at the Games, but came agonizingly close in 2008 with a fourth-place finish in Beijing.
"We've given up three runs [in the tournament], two of them against the two teams that are playing the gold-medal game," said Canadian head coach Mark Smith, whose club lost 1-0 to the U.S. on Thursday. "I don't think we have to change a whole lot.
WATCH | Canada to play for bronze after loss to Japan:
"We need a little more timely hitting."
Japan centre-fielder Eri Yamada singled home the winning run to break the 0-0 tie in Yokohama, where it felt like 37 C with the humidity.
Canadian bats silenced
"We knew that it was going to be a one-run game, and we knew that it might come down to late innings," Smith said. "We had a couple of opportunities to push runs across ourselves and couldn't get it done.
"They finally made good on one."
Each team started the eighth inning with a runner on second, but Canada went down quietly in the top half.
Twenty-year-old Japanese pitcher Miu Goto struck out all six batters she faced in the seventh and eighth innings, setting the stage for the walk-off win.
That performance followed Japanese starter Yukiko Ueno, who was masterful through six innings — scattering just four hits without surrendering a walk to the typically patient Canadians.
Canada also teetered in the bottom of the seventh as Japan loaded the bases with one out.
The trouble came after shortstop Janet Leung bobbled a ground ball and couldn't make the throw to first for the second out of the inning, leaving runners on first and third. But after an intentional walk, Yuka Ichiguchi lined out to second and Minori Naito popped up to first after an eight-pitch battle with reliever Danielle Lawrie, who suffered the loss.
"We've all invested heavily in preparation for this event," Smith said. "We came here believing we could go home a gold medallist. All of our focus over the last two years has been on that. They've sacrificed in their lives incredibly to put themselves in this position.
"It's a tough pill, but at the same time, we're too good a team not to go home with a medal."
Lengthy delay as coach files protest
Smith pulled his team off the field with one out in the fifth inning as he filed a formal protest with the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Although the exact appeal was unclear, Smith had just pulled pitcher Jenna Caira from the game for Lawrie. At one point during the delay, Lawrie handed the ball back to Caira as the latter appeared set to retake the mound.
But when play resumed, Lawrie was pitching. After the lengthy delay, she induced two ground outs on three pitches to keep the game tied.
Canada posed its best threat in the top of the fifth inning following a leadoff double from Jenn Salling. After Erika Polidori advanced Salling to third with a groundout, Groenewegen was hit by a pitch.
WATCH | Groenewegen's inspirational journey to Tokyo:
But Emma Entzminger struck out and Leung grounded out, leaving a pair on base.
Groenewegen, starting for the fourth straight game, tossed three scoreless innings — allowing three hits and a walk while striking out two. Caira come on in the fourth inning and retired four of five batters she faced.
The U.S. beat No. 8 Australia (1-3) earlier Sunday by a 2-1 score while fifth-ranked Mexico (1-3) picked up a 5-0 win over Italy (0-4).
The top two squads following the round robin play for gold, while the third- and fourth-place teams battle for bronze.
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.
With files from The Canadian Press