The Aussie Spirit won two of their four games, beating Canada in the third-place playoff, to earn the bronze medal at the Japan Cup in Takasaki.
With two wins against Canada and narrow losses to the USA and Japan, the Aussies stamped themselves as one of the top teams in world softball.
The result capped off an impressive northern hemisphere summer for the Aussie Spirit, who finished fourth at the World Cup in Oklahoma City, then second at the Canada Cup in suburban Vancouver, before this latest third-place finish in Japan.
Host nation Japan won the tournament with a 5-4 victory over the USA in the final.
Japan Cup Game 1: USA 5, Australia 4
The Aussie Spirit put up a brave fight but suffered a heartbreaking extra-inning loss to the USA in their first game of the Japan Cup.
A wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning proved decisive as the Australians went down 5-4 after leading for most of the game.
Justine Smethurst and Kaia Parnaby shared pitching duties. Smethurst pitched 3.1 innings, allowing just one run one one hit and four walks, with two strikeouts. Parnaby pitched four innings for three earned runs on three hits and three walks, with five strikeouts.
With one out in the first inning and a runner on second, the USA intentionally walked Aussie Spirit captain Stacey Porter. The strategy paid off as the next two hitters were retired on ground balls.
The USA took the lead in the second inning on a solo home run by Valerie Arioto.
In the third inning, Porter collected Australia’s second hit with a single to left field. Taylah Tsitsikronis and Clare Warwick both reached on fielding errors, the second of which allowed Porter to score.
Samantha Poole, who had doubled in the previous inning, did the same again, this time scoring Tsitsikronis. When Belinda White was hit by a pitch, the Spirit had bases loaded with one out and Carmelle Sorensen at the plate, facing a new USA pitcher, Kelly Barnhill. Sorensen grounded out, but Warwick scored on the play to give the Aussies a 3-1 lead.
But the lead was erased in the bottom of the inning courtesy of a two-run homer by Amanda Chidester.
With the scores locked at 3-3, it was Porter who broke the deadlock with a home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The Spirit added to their lead in the fifth inning. Warwick reached on an error, Poole walked and White was hit by a pitch to again load the bases for Sorensen. Again, she got the job done, this time with a sacrifice fly that scored Warwick.
The USA pulled a run back in the bottom of the fifth when Michelle Moultrie doubled, driving in Janie Takeda.
With Smethurst back on to pitch and needing a scoreless inning for the victory, the Spirit came up short. A double by Casey Cooper was followed by a fielding error, which scored a run to tie the scores.
In the first extra inning, with tiebreaker rules in force, the Spirit failed to score in the top half. That set the stage for the USA to bunt Aubree Munro to third, leading to her scoring on a wild pitch to end the game.
Japan Cup Game 2: Australia 4, Canada 2
Canada had a stranglehold on this game until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Aussie Spirit turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
Stacey Porter led off the sixth with a single, Clare Warwick reached on a fielding error and Samantha Poole singled, scoring Porter for Australia’s first run.
With two out, Carmelle Sorensen walked to load the bases for Rachel Lack, whose single scored two and put the Spirit in front. Leigh Godfrey then singled to score Sorensen, with Lack out at home.
The two-run lead was more than enough for pitcher Amelia Cudicio, who put away the last three Canadian hitters. Cudicio went three innings in relief, allowing two hits and one run, with four strikeouts. Earlier, Justine Smethurst pitched four innings for no earned runs, striking out four and walking one.
Japan Cup Game 3: Japan 3, Australia 0
Japanese pitchers Yukiko Ueno and Yamato Fujita combined for a shutout as the Aussie Spirit struggled to create scoring opportunities.
Stacey Porter, Jemma Freegard and Taylah Tsitsikronis were the only Australians to record hits. Samantha Poole drew a walk to become the only other base runner.
Kaia Parnaby, Ellen Roberts and Amelia Cudicio shared the pitching duties, restricting the powerful Japan lineup to three runs on five hits and one walk and combining for four strikeouts.
Japan Cup Game 4: Australia 1, Canada 0
In a classic pitchers’ duel, the Aussie Spirit came out on top despite getting only two hits for the game.
Kaia Parnaby was back to her brilliant best, pitching a complete game and striking out six while allowing only two hits and a walk.
Making life tough for the Spirit was the fact that Canadian pitcher Karissa Hovinga was almost as good, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out six.
Canada’s best chance to score was in the first inning, after leadoff batter Kelsey Jenkins doubled. But Parnaby then struck out the next batter and induced two groundouts to end the threat.
Australia also produced a scoring opportunity in the first inning after Stacey Porter and Taylah Tsitsikronis drew back-to-back walks with two out. But Porter was forced out on a fielder’s choice.
The key moment for the Spirit came in the second inning, which Samantha Poole led off with a double. Belinda White sacrificed Poole to third, then Jemma Freegard also bunted, allowing Poole to score.
They didn’t know it at the time, but that was to be the only run of the game. Australia’s only other hit was by Leigh Godfrey, a single to lead off the sixth inning.
Canada had a chance to tie the scores in the seventh inning after Holly Speers led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second. But Parnaby took care of the next two batters to ice the game.