OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — First-year coach Ken Eriksen is starting to see his group of youngsters transform into the Team USA of old.
Stacy May-Johnson hit a grand slam and Christi Orgeron had a three-run double in a 10-run fourth inning, and the United States advanced to the World Cup of Softball championship game by beating Great Britain 10-0 Sunday.
The U.S. will face 2008 Olympic gold medalist Japan on Monday night in a familiar matchup of the sport’s two powerhouses.
Orgeron broke a scoreless tie with a double that hopped to the wall in left field and cleared the bases, and the Americans (4-1) didn’t let up until the game had ended because of the mercy rule.
“This team has that potential to at any moment just completely bust the game open,” Orgeron said. “It could be anyone in the lineup, one through nine. This team has an incredible amount of talent. We’ve definitely been blessed by God with our abilities.
“All it takes is one little spark and you start a forest fire.”
Just after Michelle Moultrie made a highlight-reel diving catch in left field to finish the top of the fourth, the American offense came alive just like in the days when Crystl Bustos, Jessica Mendoza and Stacey Nuveman filled the middle of the lineup.
Orgeron scored when second baseman Naomi Jones misplayed Michelle Moultrie’s grounder, and Rhea Taylor followed with a single to shallow center to load the bases again. May-Johnson homered to left, and Valerie Arioto and Brittany Schutte added back-to-back blasts to center to end the game.
All of the Olympians from the Americans’ most dominant era are gone now, replaced by players with little to no international experience — and some only halfway through college. The U.S. lost three out of four games against Japan, including the championship game, at the Canada Cup this month and also lost to Canada at this World Cup.
But Eriksen saw his team start to turn the corner late in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Canada, which ended with the tying run on third.
“This is a pretty loose group right now,” Eriksen said. “If you take a look, really the four innings today, the seven innings last night and the last two innings against Canada, that was a little bit more like Team USA, what I’m used to.
“It’s good to see it’s coming together. They’re starting to look to each other for companionship and perspective on the field.”
That showed in the adjustments made against Stacie Townsend (0-2). The UTEP product retired six of the first seven batters she faced, but then U.S. players started sharing what they’d learned about her pitches and soon the runs started piling up.
“This team is just relentless and we refuse to be denied,” Orgeron said. “I love the fire and the passion this team has. Everyone just got a little taste of what we can do, so I’m excited about the future.”
Whitney Canion (2-0) allowed only two singles by Laura Thompson to get the win.
Canada (3-2), the only team with multiple victories against the U.S. at the World Cup, was in line to reach the championship game for the first time before losing 8-3 to Australia in the nightcap Sunday.
That opened the door for Japan (4-1), which beat Great Britain 13-6 and the Czech Republic 9-0 Sunday to maintain its chance at the title. The U.S. beat the Japanese 8-4 on Saturday night but didn’t face nemesis Yukiko Ueno, the winner in the 2008 gold medal game who threw a three-hit shutout in the Canada Cup finals.
Eriksen said he expected to start Jordan Taylor, who just completed her college career at Michigan. She struck out all four batters she faced to close out the win against Japan on Saturday night.
“She deserves it. She’s doing well for us,” Eriksen said. “But the whole staff will be ready.”