It took six games and a close contest against the defending champions, but the Junior Steelers finally tasted their first defeat at the XI Junior Men’s Softball World Championship.
In front of a crowd of about 3000 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the Junior Steelers lost 3-2 to Japan in a high-quality game that was in the balance until the final out.
The win drops Australia to second in the Group A standings, behind unbeaten Japan. But the Junior Steelers go into the playoff rounds with a double chance and are still in medal contention.
Their next mission is what is sure to be another tough game against host nation and top Group B team Canada. Japan will meet New Zealand in the other clash of medal contenders.
Game 6: Japan 3, Australia 2
This game lived up to expectations as a tight contest, with neither side able to score in the first two innings as starting pitchers Layton Reid and Yugo Kitagawa looked sharp.
Japan took the lead in the top of the third inning on a sacrifice fly, but Australia hit back immediately. Dawson Summers doubled, went to third on Ryan King’s ground-out and scored when Jeremy Waters just beat out an infield single.
Japan broke the tie with a run in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Hiroshi Sakata. An inning later they went further ahead on a home run by Koki Sato.
Things looked grim for the Junior Steelers, but they refused to go down without a fight. After Chris Plain walked in the seventh inning, King hit a ball that came within centimetres of what would have been a game-tying home run. But the ball hit the top of the wall, allowing Plain to score but leaving the Junior Steelers still trailing by a run.
Two strikeouts by relief pitcher Kaito Miyamoto iced the game for Japan.
Reid pitched three innings and allowed just the one run, with three strikeouts. Brad Kilpatrick pitched four innings, allowing one earned run on three hits, with one strikeout.