SOUTH SURREY, B.C. - Former Tennessee Lady Vol pitcher Monica Abbott struck out seven over the final 2.2 innings while allowing just one hit to help the U.S. National Team outlast the Japan Elite squad, 1-0, in both teams' opener on Saturday at the 14th annual Canada Cup at Softball City in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Solid pitching and some outstanding individual defense were the stories of the day for the Red, White & Blue as hurlers Jennie Finch Daigle (3 IP, 3 H, 3 K), Jennie Ritter (1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 K) and Abbott combined on the shutout. Meanwhile, left fielder Jessica Mendoza made several tough grabs in the outfield and was credited with an assist in the fifth inning when she gunned down Japan shortstop Aki Uenishi at the plate.
The Japan Elite squad threatened right off the bat in the top of the first as center fielder Misato Kawano and second baseman Motoko Fujimoto delivered consecutive singles off Finch Daigle to place two on with no outs. A fielder's choice cut down the lead runner at third and then the U.S. pitcher managed consecutive strikeouts to escape the early jam.
A single by center fielder Caitlin Lowe, a fielder's choice from shortstop Natasha Watley that cut down the lead runner at second, a throwing error on a ball off the bat of designated player Crystl Bustos and a walk to right fielder Kelly Kretschman loaded the bases for Team USA in the bottom of the first. A groundout by third baseman Andrea Duran left all three stranded, however, as both squads couldn't get the key hit in the first frame to nab the early lead.
In the top of the fourth with reliever Jennie Ritter in the circle, a pair of fielding miscues by the Americans gave Team Japan some offensive life with runners at the corners and two down. Right fielder Sonoka Kuniyoshi laced a ground ball back to Ritter, however, who threw her out at first to stem the threat.
Mendoza's throw to the plate saved a run in the top of the fifth and with a Japanese runner standing on second and just one out, Ritter gave way to Abbott in the circle. The Salinas, Calif., native allowed a single to Fujimoto to put runners at the corners, but she settled down to strikeout third baseman Maki Furuta and designated player Mikiko Tanaka consecutively to leave the duo stranded on the basepaths.
Having survived threat after threat from Team Japan, the U.S. managed to plate the contest's initial tally in the bottom of the fifth. With one retired Lowe and Watley singled to place two aboard for the always-dangerous Bustos. She delivered a base knock to load the bags with Kretschman stepping into the batter's box. Japanese hurler Marika Goto struck Kretschman with a pitch to force in the game's lone run as the Red, White & Blue nabbed a 1-0 advantage.
That proved to be plenty for Abbott as the 2007 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year struck out five of the final six batters she faced to close out the hard-fought victory for the Americans.
For more information on the U.S. National Team's participation at the Canada Cup check into the USA Softball website at www.usasoftball.com or through the official Canada Cup website at http://www.canadacup.com/index.asp. Updates on Abbott and the U.S. squad will be posted at www.utladyvols.com as they become available.