The United States opened its Tokyo Olympics campaign with a 2-0 win over Italy Wednesday as softball made its long-awaited return to Olympic play after a 13-year hiatus.
For its first of five opening-round games, the U.S. turned to its veteran pitchers with three previous Olympics between them.
Athens 2004 gold medalist Cat Osterman got the start for the U.S. and was dominant, holding the Italians to just one hit through six innings, striking out nine. Her teammate at the Beijing 2008 Games, Monica Abbott, pitched a scoreless seventh to close out the shutout, striking out the side.
For large portion of the game, Italy’s Greta Cecchetti matched Osterman pitch-for-pitch. The former NCAA Division-I pitcher with Texas A&M Corpus Christi held the U.S. offense hitless for the first three innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, though, U.S. cleanup hitter Valarie Arioto managed a single off Cecchetti for the Americans’ first hit. Michelle Moultrie followed two batters later with a single to drive in Arioto and put the U.S. up 1-0.
One inning later, Aubree Munro scored on a sacrifice fly by Janie Reed to double the lead. The U.S. loaded the bases later in the fifth, but Moultrie flied out to end the inning and leave the runners stranded. The U.S. went scoreless in the sixth and seventh to round out a less-than-stellar offensive performance, which followed Japan’s 8-1 run-rule victory against Australia earlier in the day.
The U.S. joined Japan atop the standings through the first two games of round-robin play to officially lead off the Tokyo Olympics. Both games took place at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, significant for its location in the same Japanese prefecture that was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. Holding the first competition of the Olympics there, even in the absence of fans, was meant to commemorate the recovery efforts of the past decade in the region.
The United States is in pursuit of a fourth softball gold medal in five chances after emerging as champions in the sport’s first three Olympic tournaments from 1996-2004. At the Beijing 2008 Games, the last before softball’s 13-year Olympic hiatus, the U.S. lost the final game to Japan. A highly anticipated – albeit long delayed – rematch between the two softball powers is scheduled for the final day of round-robin play, July 25 at 9 p.m. ET.