By Paresh Dave
FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) -Hosts Japan earned an extra-innings victory against Mexico on their ace’s 39th birthday and the second day of softball at the Tokyo Games, joining United States at 2-0 in the standings.
Australia later on Thursday defeated Italy, who dropped to 0-2 and have yet to score a run in the tournament.
Mexico, also 0-2, twice tied Japan, including in the seventh inning when a dropped ball by Japan’s center fielder let in a run and kept their ace Yukiko Ueno from a complete game and second-straight winning start.
Japan reliever Miu Goto escaped loaded bases in the top of the eighth, leaving her team mate Mana Atsumi to drive in Eri Yamada, who started at second base under extra-innings rules, for a 3-2 walkoff win.
Goto said wanting to deliver Ueno a birthday win helped in shutting down Mexico, and slugger Yamato Fujita described a homer she hit as a present for Ueno.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. pitcher Monica Abbott dominated Canada from the start.
For seven innings, Canadian batters chased pitches off the plate and failed to make contact on 116 km per hour (72 mile per hour) tosses from one of the game’s fastest throwers and a five-time Japanese league most valuable player.
In a routine that paid off, Abbott returned to the same spot on the bench with a big grin after her first six dazzling frames. She towelled sweat off her arms, placed a cold pack on the back of her neck and sipped fluids from her pink water bottle.
After recording the 1-0 victory’s final out, the 1.91-metre (6-foot, 3-inch) left-hander wrapped her arms around catcher Aubree Munro.
“For us to hold down a tough offence and let the defence work, it felt really good,” Munro said afterwards.
U.S. center fielder Haylie McCleney scored the lone run after her bloop single, and she threw out pinch runner Joey Lye from right center to prevent a score.
In the sixth inning of the 1-0 loss to Australia, Italy’s Giulia Longhi drummed two balls against a metal bench on the sidelines of the spectator-less stadium. Longhi said she hoped the beat would rouse a rally as it has for the team before. It was not to be, however, and a pair of groundouts left a runner stranded at second base.
Australia and Canada stand at 1-1. The top four after five round-robin games each advance to medal games.
A third of Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium’s lights were needed late in the Australia game as the gray skies never let up. The action moves south to Yokohama Stadium on Saturday after a break for the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing Lincoln Feast, Kim Coghill and Hugh Lawson)