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by Bob Fromer

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: July 20 -- Losing to a local Junior softball team -- albeit one of the best in Oklahoma -- was not the ideal way for the GB Women's Fastpitch Team to close out a series of three scrimmage games before the 6th World Cup of Softball gets underway tomorrow and GB faces Australia in what is guaranteed to be 100-degree-plus heat at 3.00 pm in the Hall of Fame Stadium.

But scrimmage games are about giving everyone a chance to play and seeing what players can do, not about results, and GB gave their best offensive display so far in building up an early 3-0 lead, only to let it slip in the late innings as they used three pitchers in the course of the game.

Playing the best

The state of Oklahoma is sending four Under-19 Gold teams to ASA National Championships in San Diego next week, and over the past three nights, the GB Team has played three of them. These are teams made up mostly of high school seniors and players who have just graduated from high school and will play softball on college scholarships beginning in September, many of them at big-time NCAA Division 1 schools.

On Monday night, GB defeated the Oklahoma A's 4-0 and last night they beat the Tulsa Shootout 3-2. Tonight's opponents were the Oklahoma Diamonds, and GB started strongly and built up a 3-0 lead after two innings on five hits, a walk and an error. But after the Diamonds took out starter Jules Townsend in the second inning and brought in Taylor Dewbery, British scoring dried up.

And when GB took out starter Megan Brown after she had pitched four scoreless innings, the Diamonds squeezed in a run on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning off Noami Jones, though GB turned the sac fly into a double play when Karlene Headley-Cooper cut down the trail runner attempting to go from second to third.

Then the roof fell in on GB in the sixth inning as the Diamonds banged out three hits off young GB pitcher Carling Hare, including a two-RBI triple by Erin Miller, and took further advantage of two walks and a GB error. All of this came with two out and no one on, and one of those outs was a fine running catch in left field by Karlene Headley-Cooper off a hard line drive that looked destined to go to the fence.

It was a big scalp for the young Diamonds team, and they earned it with a fine display of softball.

Jumping on top

Things were very different at the start of the game. Third base player Kristi Yoshizawa led off for GB in the top of the first inning and promptly drove the ball to the fence in right-centre field for a triple.

Kristi had to hold on third as Laura Thompson beat out an infield hit and stole second.

Then both runners scored when Stacie Townsend singled to left, Laura on a fine slide that took her around the catcher while swiping the plate with her hand.

GB renewed their assault on the Diamonds in the top of the second inning. Morgan Parkerson reached on an error and was sacrificed to second by Karlene Headley-Cooper. Ali Parkerson walked, Rachael Watkeys flied out, but then Kristi Yoshizawa singled to load the bases and Laura Thompson singled to drive in Morgan.

That's when the Diamonds took out Jules Townsend and brought in Taylor Duberry and that's when the GB scoring stopped, though there were further hits over the remaining innings by Sarah Jones, Rachael Watkeys, Ali Parkerson and Naomi Jones. Although Dewbery retired the side in order only once, GB couldn't cash their baserunners, and then the Diamonds turned the game on its head with their sixth-inning outburst.

Playing with pride

Now the scrimmaging is over and starting tomorrow, Great Britain and the Czech Republic, representing Europe in this event, will face the top four teams in the world -- Japan, the US, Canada and Australia -- over the next five days, as well as playing each other.

The tournament will be televised in 147 countries around the world by ESPN, and this kind of exposure is a vital part of softball's campaign for reinstatement to the Olympic Games in future.

For the GB Women's Team, playing in this kind of event, at the pinnacle of world softball, is both an honour and a source of pride. Over the past six years, including this summer, the GB Team will have played in two World Cups and two World Championships, as well as three European Championships and the last Olympic Qualifying Tournament. And GB players have earned the right to be part of these events, having moved up to second place in Europe and twice finishing inside the top twelve at World Championships.

GB softball -- and not just the GB Women -- have come a long way. Look at the featured stories on this website: the GB Women in Oklahoma and soon to be in Italy to try to qualify for their third straight World Championship, the GB Junior Women just back from the prestigious Canadian Open, the GB Junior Men back in Europe for the first time since 2004 and the GB Slowpitch Team looking for an eighth straight European title in Bulgaria. And soon the the GB Under-16 Cadette Girls will hit the website when they head to Belgium in early August for their own European Championships, looking to improve on a fifth-place finish two years ago.

And not forgetting the GB Fastpitch Men's Team, third in Europe and eighth in the world.

So whatever happens over the next five days, the GB Women's Team will once again be at the centre of the softball world, and isn't that amazing for a softball country like ours?