Japan off to good start in Fukushima in Olympic softball

Photo: (Mexico vs. Japan) Japan's softball team celebrates after a walk-off win over Mexico on an extra-inning infield single by Mana Atsumi (4th from left) in the eighth. Second from left is Eri Yamada, who scored the winning run, and third from right is Miu Goto, who turned in a superb pitching performance in relief.

Japan pulled off a 3-2 walk-off win over Mexico in the second game of the Tokyo Olympic softball round-robin stage at Fukushima Prefecture-run Azuma stadium in Fukushima city on July 22. The host nation scored the dramatic winning run in an extra-inning tiebreaker in the bottom of the eighth for its second straight win following a triumph over Australia the previous day, getting off to a good start in its quest for its first championship since winning in Beijing 13 years ago when softball was last played in an Olympic Games. Ace pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who plays for Bic Camera Takasaki in the domestic league, started for Japan for the second consecutive game on her 39th birthday and struck out 10 in a solid outing. Left-hander Miu Goto of the Toyota Motor team, at 20 the youngest of the Japan squad, fanned five in the seventh and eighth in relief of Ueno. In the bottom of the eighth, third-base runner and team captain Eri Yamada, a 37-year-old player with the Denso team, slid into home plate for the decisive run on an infield single from Mana Atsumi, 32, of Toyota Motor. Softball was missing from the last two Olympic Games after being played in 2008. The Tokyo 2020 softball tournament features six countries -- Japan, Mexico, Australia, the United States, Canada and Italy. At Azuma stadium, a total of six games were played on July 21 and 22, under the banner of "the Olympics for recovery" from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. But no spectators were allowed into the stadium amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The softball tournament shifted to Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama for games held from July 24, when Japan squared off with Italy. The top two teams in the round robin proceeded to the July 27 final. At Azuma stadium, the baseball tournament opened with a game between Japan and the Dominican Republic, which began at noon on July 28.