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by Bob Fromer

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: July 20 -- The six teams that will compete in the 6th World Cup of Softball starting tomorrow -- the USA, Japan, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic and Great Britain -- are currently spending much of their time at the Hall of Fame Stadium complex here, training in the 100-degree heat, playing scrimmage games and, in the case of Team USA, giving press conferences.

The latter is not entirely a comfortable process for the US players and coaches, since much of the questioning is around how and why Team USA lost 7-0 to Japan in the final of the Canadian Open Fastpitch Tournament a few days ago. This is an entirely new US team after their previous star players defected en masse to the Women's Pro League over the winter, and the realisation is setting in that their perennial status as world #1 may be under threat.

The show begins

Tomorrow, the ESPN cameras will roll in, along with, hopefully, the crowds, and things will get under way at 10.00 am in the main stadium when the Czech Republic takes on Australia followed by Japan v Canada at 12.30.

The GB Women are up next, in the heat of the day at 3.00 pm against Australia, and then the feature attraction in these parts, Team USA, will have what they assume will be a gentle opening game against the Czech Republic at 7.00 pm.

In and around these games, on auxiliary fields, men's slowpitch teams representing the USA and Canada will be cranking home runs in warm-up games against local teams in preparation for their third annual "Border Battle" clash in the main stadium at 3.00 pm on Saturday, also to be televised by ESPN and available in Britain on ESPN America (check for details). Last year, Canada won 38-37!

One of the players on the USA roster will be Johnny McCraw, one of the three Combat slowpitch coaches that came to the UK and Ireland back in May.

Second GB win

In the midst of all this, the GB Women trained at the Hall of Fame complex yesterday morning and then came back in the evening for a scrimmage game against a very good local Under-19 travel ball team, the Tulsa Shootout Gold.

And while GB recorded a second straight win, this game was neither as straightforward or efficient  as the team's 4-0 win over the Oklahoma A's on Monday.

In last night's game, GB cruised through the first five innings and built up a 3-0 lead, albeit on only three hits, off a rotation of three Tulsa Gold pitchers who threw an inning at a time. Five walks and an error by the Shootout helped swell the number of GB baserunners, and the big blow was a two-RBI double to left-centre field by shortstop Jessica Legendre in the fourth inning that broke open a scoreless game and gave GB a 2-0 lead after pitcher Stacie Townsend had singled and catcher Leah English had walked.

Britain scored again in the fifth inning when three walks loaded the bases and GB's second pitcher of the night, Carling Hare, drove in Naomi Jones on a ground ball to second base.

Other than that, the GB offense went up and down rather too easily for comfort considering what is to come, and Tulsa pitchers picked up seven strikeouts.

Quiet start

Stacie Townsend started the game for Great Britain and set down the Tulsa team in order in the first and third innings while changing speeds and location on her assortment of pitches. But things got a little tense in the second inning when the Tulsa leadoff hitter, Laney Kmeib, reached base on a dropped third strike and Tyler Donson and Emily Murphy both singled to eventually load the bases with two outs.

But Stacie struck out Chelsea Stort to end the threat, and recorded six strikeouts in all over her three innings of work.

Eighteen-year-old Carling Hare pitched a scoreless fourth and fifth inning for GB. Tulsa went down in order in the fourth, but it took an unusual double play to get GB out of trouble with two runners on in the fifth when second base player Sarah Jones smothered a little line drive on one hop, threw to first for the out, and then Rachael Watkeys threw to Jessica Legendre for the tag out at second on the Tulsa runner who had hesitated between first and second thinking that the line drive might be caught on the fly.

Tense finish

GB's guest pitcher for this tournament, former US pro league player Megan Brown, arrived in Oklahoma City on Monday night after a 19-hour trip from San Marino (where she's playing in the Italian League), and Megan came out to pitch the last two innings.

The first two Tulsa batters in the sixth inning grounded back to the pitcher, but then Megan suddenly ran into trouble when Sammie Reiss singled for Tulsa, Jessica Walker walked, and then the GB infield, so solid up to this point, committed two straight errors. Suddenly the score was 3-2.

But Megan regrouped to strike out Madison Bright to end the inning.

In the Tulsa seventh, leadoff hitter Alexah Replogue reached when her ground ball was fumbled, then thrown away at first base. But as Replogue tried to go to second, GB right fielder Morgan Parkerson, backing up the play, alertly picked the ball up and threw her out.

Chelsea Smith singled for Tulsa with two outs -- the young Tulsa hitters seemed much more at home against Megan Brown's speed than they had against Stacie Townsend's changes of speed. But the game ended when GB left fielder Naomi Jones made a fine catch on her knees of a sharp line drive off the bat of Tulsa's Tyler Donson.

One more time

The GB Women will play a final scrimmage game tonight against another local team, thankfully (like the last two) starting at 8.00 pm when the sun has just about gone down and the temperature has just about become bearable.

Then it's Australia on Thursday, the Czech Republic on Friday, Canada on Saturday and then the doubleheader from hell against Japan and the USA on Sunday.

There will be playoffs for final places on Monday, July 25 -- 5 v 6, 3 v 4 and 1 v 2 for the Cup.

And then GB and the Czech Republic will head off to Italy the next morning for the important tournament of the summer -- the European Championship and World Championship Qualifier starting on July 31 at Ronchi dei Legionari and two nearby towns in the Friuli region between Venice and Trieste.

GB will hope to beat the Czech Republic here in Oklahoma as well as back in Italy; but would also like to leave the World Cup with a bigger scalp. All will be revealed starting on Thursday.


Previous stories from the GB Women's Team in Oklahoma can be found in the News section on this website.