The U.S. qualified for softball’s return to the Olympics and won the world championship on an extra-inning walk-off Sunday.
Kelsey Stewart drove in the winning run in the 10th as the U.S. beat host Japan 7-6 to repeat as world champs. The Americans rallied from a 6-4 deficit in the last frame against Japanese star pitcher Yukiko Ueno.
“They always find a way to come back,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t get too wrapped up in what your swings looks like, what your pitch is supposed to do. Just play softball.'”
Softball is back on the Olympic program in Tokyo in 2020 after being cut following the 2008 Beijing Games.
The Americans qualified for the six-team Olympic tournament when Japan eliminated Canada from the world tournament in Japan earlier Sunday.
With Japan already qualified for the Tokyo Games as host nation, the U.S. clinched the lone berth available at worlds.
The U.S. and Japan met in the last seven Olympic and world championship finals dating to 2006, including Japan’s upset of the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic final.
The U.S. went 9-0 for the tournament, including beating Japan in the semifinals, 4-3 in eight innings, on Saturday.
Eriksen paid tribute to Ueno, who pitched a total of 17 innings between two games Sunday in hot and humid weather.
“There are not many pitchers who could do what she did,” he said. “It shows you how great she is. We got fortunate that she ran out of gas at the end, her ball wasn’t moving as much as it was in the last inning.”
Monica Abbott, the fifth U.S. pitcher used, picked up the win despite giving up two runs on one hit over the final two innings. Abbott, 33, is the only player on the U.S. team who played in the Beijing Olympics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk