The Junior Spirit produced a fantastic performance but came up agonisingly short against Japan, going down 1-0 in a thrilling contest at the Junior Women’s World Championship.
An astonishing pitching performance by Tarni Stepto, who struck out 14 Japanese batters, was not enough to get a win for the gallant Australian on the second day of the tournament in Clearwater, Florida.
A sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning was the only run of the game as the Junior Spirit matched it with the world’s best.
The heartbreaking loss followed an impressive win against Brazil, which was Australia’s third win from as many games after victories against Peru and the Netherlands on day one.
Game Three: Australia 8, Brazil 1
After a sluggish start, the Junior Spirit cruised to victory in six innings for their third win in as many games.
There was no score until the third inning, when Shannon Keevers got things started for the Australians with a bunt single and a stolen base. Tamieka Whitefield doubled to score Keevers, then Montana Kearns hit a two-run homer to give the Junior Spirit a 3-0 lead.
They padded that lead in the fourth inning, helped by two fielding errors that allowed Jamie Mead, running for the catcher, to score.
Another run followed in the fifth inning, when Whitefield doubled, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Rhiannon Kemp’s sacrifice fly.
Despite having a 5-0 lead, the Junior Spirit offence did not ease up. A walk to Maddison Schofield and infield singles by Keevers and Sara Riou loaded the bases for Natasha Holt, who delivered a two-run single that became three runs because of an outfield error.
Brazil scored a consolation run in the sixth inning on a single by Rebecca Laudino, but that was as close as they could get.
Again, the Junior Spirit pitching was outstanding. Gabrielle Plain allowed just one hit and no walks in four innings, striking out six. Kandra Lamb finished the job with two innings of work, allowing two hits and one walk, with one strikeout.
Game Four: Japan 1, Australia 0
This was the ultimate pitchers’ duel, with neither team getting a base hit and the game being decided on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Australian pitcher Tarni Stepto was magnificent, pitching a complete game and striking out 14, with three walks and only the one unearned run.
Unfortunately for the Junior Spirit, Stepto’s great effort was matched by Japanese pitcher Sakura Miwa, who struck out seven in a perfect game.
The hard luck for Stepto started in the final inning, when leadoff batter Iroha Suwa reached on an error and stole second, advancing to third when the throw deflected into the outfield.
Needing a couple of strikeouts, Stepto came through to get the next hitter. But Shino Stake lofted a ball to right field, easily deep enough to score Suwa and end the game.