Australia’s Softball team, the Aussie Spirit, have gone down to the gold medal defending champions Japan in the very first event of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games 8-1.
After starting strong and opening the scoring in the top of the first inning, the Spirit will rue missed chances, leaving seven runners on base throughout the game.
Michelle Cox scored the opening run after Japan’s superstar pitcher Yukiko Ueno looked vulnerable, walking two batters in the Australian line-up leading to loaded bases in the top of the first and the potential for the Spirit to take a commanding lead.
However, Ueno, arguably the world’s best pitcher, quickly found a rhythm and held the Spirit to the single run.
Aussie Spirit captain, and now officially a three-time Olympian, Stacey Porter, said a sprinkling of nerves may have taken hold of her team.
“I think it was our nerves today, that was a pretty big moment, I’m the only one that’s been to the Games before and I said to the girls afterwards, the first game is generally the hardest,” said Porter.
“So we’ll just have to take a deep breath and remember our abilities, I think there was some belief lost there, but if we get back on track we’ll be a different team tomorrow. We always knew Japan were going to be tough on day one, I thought we were prepared for it but a few things didn’t go our way.
“Ueno’s a world class pitcher, the best in the world, so we knew that we were going to get her best pitches.
“She’s a classy athlete and does everything right to prepare for the Games, she was on the money and I thought that we were off a little bit, would’ve been nice if we swung at a few more pitches but that’s the game.”
While the runs couldn’t be converted, Porter said the team is far from downtrodden after dropping their opening game and expects a stronger performance in their second game against Italy.
“It’s the first game of a long tournament, we’ll go back, re-group and come out firing tomorrow.
“That’s what the Aussie Spirit is all about, we can create our own atmosphere in the dugout, we’ll be right tomorrow.”
Despite the loss, the gravitas of officially opening the Olympics, when many thought it would never go ahead, was a huge honour for both Australia and the sport in the country.
The Tamworth native, who still makes time to play for her local club, the Panthers in the Brisbane Softball Association, when she is not competing professionally here in Japan, said the uniqueness of a spectator-less Olympics due to Covid was never going to be a distraction for the group.
“Playing in the opening game of the Olympics was a big buzz, we’ve been out for 13 years and to come back in and be the actual first competition was pretty special,” added Porter.
“We’re used to looking in the crowds and seeing our Aussie supporters up there, but we knew they’d be watching from home, we had a job to do on the diamond and that was never going to change.”
The Aussie Spirit now look to bounce back against Italy, again at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium at 4:00pm [AEST], Porter says they will expect a different style of play from the Europeans, converting opportunities being the priority.
“A different type of ball club, we’ll go home and do some scouting on them and refresh that.
“We’ll be hoping to convert runs, we left a few runners on base against Japan so hopefully tomorrow that’s a different story.”