YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Kelsey Stewart has a knack for walk-off hits in Japan.
Stewart hit a game-ending home run leading off the seventh inning, and the United States rallied late to beat Japan 2-1 Monday and win the Olympic softball group stage — and with it the right to bat last in the gold medal game.
“It’s like you dream about when you’re a little kid, about hitting a home run at the Olympics, let alone a walk-off,” Stewart said.
In August 2018, Stewart’s single capped a three-run 10th inning off Japan ace Yukiko Ueno that gave the U.S. a 7-6 win at the Women’s Softball World Championship in China, earning the Olympic berth.
She had been 1 for 12 with no RBIs at the Olympics before she drove the 98th pitch from Yamato Fujita (0-1) for the first U.S. home run of the tournament. Yuka Ichiguchi climbed the right field wall trying for a spectacular grab.
“She was starting to wear down because she had so many pitches on her arm,” Stewart said.
American players ran onto the field to celebrate their second straight walk-off win.
“I knew she was strong,” Fujita said through an interpreter, remembering Stewart from 2018. “I think the ball was too easy for her.”
Trying to bounce back from their 3-1 loss to Japan in the 2008 gold medal game, the Americans finished the group stage 5-0 while Japan dropped to 4-1.
Stewart’s first-inning error had led to Japan’s run. She bobbled Saku Yamazaki’s leadoff grounder to third, and following a sacrifice and Hitomii Kawabata’s single, Yamazaki scored on Aubree Munro’s passed ball.
Japan rested Yukiko Ueno, the 39-year-old who beat the U.S. in the 2008 gold medal game started by Cat Osterman, and Miu Goto. Fujita and catcher Yukiyo Mine lost track of the outs, starting to run off the field after Michelle Moultrie struck out for the second out of the third.
Fujita, a 30-year-old right-hander who had pitched just once before in the tournament, didn’t allow a hit until Haylie McCleney (an Olympic-best 9 for 14) singled to left leading off the sixth.
Janie Reed, whose husband, Jake, was claimed by Tampa Bay off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier in the day, reached on an infield hit with a bouncer to shortstop for just her second hit in 13 at-bats, and Valerie Arioto hit a two-out RBI single.
Ally Carda, a 28-year-old right-hander, allowed an unearned run and four hits over 5 1/3 innings in her Olympic mound debut, striking out nine and walking none.
Monica Abbott and Osterman had combined to throw all 29 innings in the first four games.
“Ally Carda has had tremendous success against them,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said of Japan. “Ally was scheduled for this game as soon as the Olympic team was named, because we knew the schedule. ... If we had to win this game to get into the gold medal game, Ally Carda was still going to get the ball.”
Osterman, a 38-year-old lefty, faced two lefties in the sixth and struck out both.
Abbott (3-0) pitched a perfect seventh, adding to two complete game wins and two saves.
“It was a great opportunity for us to be able to experience all three pitchers today before the gold medal game tomorrow,” Japan coach Reika Utsugi said through an interpreter.
A 6-foot-3 lanky left-hander, Abbott is likely to start the gold medal game scheduled for Tuesday, a day before her 36th birthday. Rain is in the forecast.
“I wouldn’t doubt that you might see four pitchers tomorrow,” Eriksen said.
GOLD MEDAL ROUNDUP
CYCLING MOUNTAIN BIKE
Tom Pidcock won the men’s mountain bike race, extending Britain’s dominance from the road and track to the dirt.
Leaving reigning champion Nino Schurter and his Swiss teammate Mathias Flueckiger behind on the fourth of seven laps, the 21-year-old multidiscipline prodigy proceeded to dominate the toughest course in Olympic history.
Flueckiger gave chase in vain and was left with a silver medal. David Valero Serrano of Spain won a surprise bronze.
The team representing the Russian Olympic Committee rode remarkable performances by Artur Dalaloyan and Nikita Nagornyy to edge Japan and China in a taut men’s team gymnastics final.
The victory marked the first Olympic title for the Russians since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Russia’s total of 262.500 points was just good enough to hold off the sport’s other two superpowers. Japan used a brilliant high bar routine by Daiki Hashimoto in the final rotation to surge past China for second with a score of 262.397.
The Chinese were undone by a fall from Lin Chaopan on floor exercise during the first rotation.
American shooter Amber English set an Olympic record to knock off reigning women’s skeet champion Diana Bacosi of Italy.
English, ranked No. 1 in the world, hit 56 of 60 targets to bounce back from just missing the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 and 2016 Games.
Bacosi matched English by hitting 47 of 50 shots to reach the final, but missed on her third attempt and a chance to repeat as Olympic champion.
China’s Wei Meng took bronze after tying a world record in qualifying.
American Vincent Hancock became the first skeet shooter to win three Olympic gold medals with a victory Monday.
Hancock repeated as gold medalist in 2008 and 2012, but had a disappointing finish at the 2016 Rio Games.
The 38-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, hit his first 26 targets in the Tokyo final and set an Olympic record with 59 of 60 overall. He beat Denmark’s Jesper Hanen by four.
Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Rashidi won bronze after taking bronze at the Rio Games as an Independent Olympic Athlete.
MEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY
Maggie MacNeil captured Canada’s first gold medal at the pool with a victory in the women’s 100-meter butterfly.
The reigning world champion touched first in 55.59 seconds, edging out China’s Zhang Yufei (55.64) for the top spot. Australia’s Emma McKeon took the bronze in 55.72, beating American teenager Torri Huske by one-hundredth of a second.
Huske went out fast, as is her style, and appeared to be close to the front with about 10 meters to go. But she faded on her final strokes and just missed a spot on the podium.
The U.S. team was denied a medal for the first time in the swimming competition.
Defending champion and world-record holder Sarah Sjöström of Sweden was seventh.
Britain’s Adam Peaty repeated as Olympic champion in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke.
Peaty was perhaps the surest best at the Olympic pool, being the first man to break both 58 and 57 seconds in his signature event. He posted the fifth-fastest time in history (57.37 seconds) to blow away the field.
Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands claimed the silver in 58.00, while the bronze went to Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi in 58.33. American Michael Andrew was next in 58.84 — the second straight final in which a U.S. swimmer finished fourth and was denied a medal.
Australia’s Ariarne Titmus defeated American Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.
Titmus won one of the most anticipated races of the games, capturing the gold medal with the second-fastest time in history.
Titmus, who trailed by nearly a full body-length at the halfway mark of the eight-lap race, turned on the speed to touch in 3 minutes, 56.69 seconds.
Defending Olympic champion and world-record holder Ledecky settled for the silver this time in 3:57.36 — the fourth-fastest time ever recorded.
No one else was even close. The bronze went to China’s Li Bingjie in 4:01.08.
Caeleb Dressel led off an American victory in the men’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Dressel gave the U.S. a lead it never relinquished, swimming the first leg in a blistering 47.26 seconds.
Blake Pieroni and Bowe Becker kept the Americans out front before Zach Apple turned in an anchor leg of 46.69 to leave no doubt at the end.
The U.S. won gold in 3 minutes, 08.97 seconds, the third-fastest relay in history. Italy took the silver in 3:10.11, with the bronze going to Australia in 3:10.22.