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by Bob Fromer

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: July 22 -- Here is the difference between the GB Women's Fastpitch Team losing 6-4 to Canada at the 6th World Cup of Softball here today and winning 6-4 instead.

In the top of the second inning, Canada had runners on second and third with two out. Veteran Canadian leadoff hitter Melanie Matthews hit a soft line drive towards left field. GB shortstop Jess Legendre dropped back, jumped as high as she could and the ball just tipped off the top of her glove. Two runs scored to give Canada a 2-0 lead.

Fast forward to the bottom of the sixth inning with GB having come back from a 6-0 deficit to trail only 6-4. There were GB runners on first and third. Steph Pearce, who had come into the game to play right field, ripped a vicious line down the third base line on the first pitch of her at-bat -- straight at Canadian third base player Jill Russell. A foot to either side and the ball would have rocketed into the left field corner and GB would have had two more runs.

Take two runs away from Canada if Melanie Matthews' hit had been two inches lower. Add two runs to GB's score if Steph Pearce's smash had been hit just slightly to one side or the other. Change both those things and GB would probably have upset the number three team in the world.

GB's fine performance in their opening game loss to Australia had veteran observers here talking about how well the British team is playing, and Laura Thompson's spectacular catch yesterday has been a big topic of conversation.

Today's performance against Canada reinforced the fact that GB looks completely at home playing the top teams in the world.

Of course, GB is not as good as Japan, the USA, Canada or Australia. We do not have their strength in depth (especially with regard to pitching), we do not have their experience and they are much stronger offensively.

But GB has been efficient and effective on defense, every bit as good as the teams we have played. Our pitching has been excellent. The team is playing without fear, and pretty much to the best of its ability. GB's performance is completely justifying our invitation to this tournament. And along with the Czech Republic, who were blown out by Australia but came within five runs of the USA yesterday evening, we are showing that European softball is indeed improving -- supposedly one of the prerequisites for softball's return to the Olympic Games.

Despite all that, GB Assistant Coach Celine Lassaigne was right to tell the team after today's game: "We shouldn't be happy or satisfied because we lost 'only' 6-4 to Canada. We should only be happy if we win."

Falling behind

Statistically, in both fastpitch softball and baseball, if the leadoff hitter gets on base to start an inning, the offensive team scores around 55% of the time. That statistic was drummed home to GB over the first four innings of the game against Canada, which started as if it was going in one direction, but finished up going somewhere very different.

Jocelyn Cater started for Canada while American guest pitcher Megan Brown opened the pitching for GB, and the teams played a scoreless first inning.

But in the top of the second, Canadian second base player Joey Lye walked to start the inning, and the eventual result was those two runs Canada scored on Melanie Matthews' hit off Jess Legendre's glove.

In the top of the third, Megan Brown hit Kelsey Haberl with a pitch to start the inning, and a two-out double by shortstop Megan Timpf to right-centre field drove in two more.

In the top of the fourth, the Canadian lead-off hitter was centre fielder Hannah Schwarz, and she hit a soft line drive between short and third that Jess Legendre overran and dropped. A double to centre field by Melanie Matthews drove in Schwarz and Matthews eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Meagan Baird.

GB put two runners on base for the first time in the bottom of the fourth on Stacie Townsend's second straight walk and a single to deep shortstop by Jess Legendre but couldn't score. So after four innings, Canada had a 6-0 lead and it looked like it would be one of those routine mercy rule games -- not a huge blowout, but a game that Canada would probably win something like 8-0 in five innings.

And then it all changed.

Coming back

As she has been so often for GB over the past three years, the difference-maker was Stacie Townsend.

Stacie came in to pitch in the top of the fifth inning and put Canada down in order, helped by another wonderful play by a GB outfielder, this time a diving catch by Karlene Headley-Cooper coming in on a short fly ball off the bat of Hannah Schwarz.

In the bottom of the fifth, GB first base player Rachael Watkeys opened the inning with a single in the hole between first and second off Canada's second pitcher, Jennifer Caira. Steph Pearce bounced into a fielder's choice and Kristi Yoshizawa struck out on one of Caira's fine change-ups, but Laura Thompson kept the inning alive with a single up the middle. And then Stacie Townsend got a curve ball or drop on the outside corner and hit a rising line drive that disappeared over the fence in right-centre field.

Suddenly the score was 6-3, and instead of facing a mercy-rule defeat, GB was back in the game.

Putting on the pressure

Canada put a runner on base in the top of the sixth but failed to score as Laura Thompson took two good catches in centre field and Stacie Townsend struck out Canadian catcher Paige Collings to end the inning.

And then GB proceeded to put more pressure on Canada in the bottom of the sixth.

Jess Legendre, leading off the inning, reached base on an infield error and Sarah Jones walked. Karlene Headley-Cooper moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, Rachael Watkeys, was meant to lay down a squeeze bunt but missed the sign and instead hit a roller down the first base line. Canadian first base player Meagan Baird charged the ball and threw home but Jess Legendre slid under the tag and the score was 6-4, with Sarah Jones on third and Rachael Watkeys on first.

And that's when Steph Pearce hit the shot down the third base line that could have tied the game had it not been hit right at Jill Russell.

Stacie Townsend again kept Canada from scoring in the top of the seventh, but Jennifer Caira used her change-up to strike out Laura Thompson and Stacie in the bottom of the seventh and pinch-hitter Carling Hare grounded out to second to end the game.

Last summer, in the World Championships in Venezuela, GB lost to Canada 7-0 in five innings on the mercy rule, and the game was a breeze for the Canadians. This summer's GB team is a smaller but tighter unit than last year's and is playing with more self-trust and confidence, while Canada has lost some veteran players since last summer. Canada were a tense and nervous team in the last two innings of today's game, and they had every right to be. They were in a real game.


The two European teams in the World Cup, GB and the Czech Republic, will play tomorrow morning at 9.00 am, hopefully before the temperature in this endless heatwave that's afflicting Oklahoma and much of the US tops the 100 degree mark.

At 3.00 pm tomorrow, in the heat of the day, the fastpitch fence at 220 feet in the main stadium will be temporarily dismantled, and men's slowpitch teams representing the US and Canada will get it on in the third annual Border Battle, with the series standing at one game each. The US team will feature Johnny McCraw, one of the Combat coaches who was in the UK in May.

The US Men's Team was practicing in the main stadium this morning before the GB-Canada game, and as the GB team was getting out of their bus, a ball came whistling past that must have been hit about 450 feet, clear out of the stadium. A lot more drives like that one followed while GB and Canada were warming up on adjoining fields. For those who like seeing large men hit a small ball a very long way, tomorrow will be a feast -- except that there is a 10 home run limit per team and any home runs hit after that are outs.

That didn't stop last year's score being 38-37 in favour of Canada!

Other games

In other World Cup games played today, Japan defeated Australia 3-0 in eight innings and Canada came back to the main stadium after lunch to inflict a 7-0 mercy rule defeat on the Czech Republic in five innings.

The Czechs have now committed nine errors in three games, and that has been part of their problem.

Japan and Australia were scoreless after seven innings, and what followed in the eighth inning was very much like yesterday's Japan-Canada game, where Japan had a two-run home run from Eri Yamada in the tiebreak inning and won 9-6. Today, with the tiebreak runner on second, Australia intentionally walked Yamada -- only for Yu Yamamoto to drive the ball over the wall in left centre field for the walkoff win.


Reports from previous GB games in Oklahoma can be found in both on the Home Page and in the News section of this website.