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Team USA Beats Australia, Faces Japan for World Games Gold

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Haylie McCleney is among the toughest outs on the planet, wherever on that spinning globe she happens to be playing. But trying to keep her down in Alabama? Folks have been trying and failing for 28 years.

Led by a perfect day at the plate from local product McCleney and strong pitching from Ally Carda, Team USA defeated Australia 5-0 in a World Games semifinal in Birmingham, Alabama. 

The Americans will play Japan for gold on Wednesday (CBS Sports Network, 9 p.m. ET), a rematch of last summer’s Olympic gold medal game that went to the hosts in Tokyo. Japan defeated Chinese Taipei 7-0 in Tuesday’s first semifinal in Birmingham. 

Here’s how the action unfolded in Birmingham. 

Carda escapes early trouble 

With an 0-2 count on Australia leadoff hitter Michelle Cox in the top of the first inning, Carda pirouetted in obvious frustration when she didn’t get the call for a quick strikeout on her third pitch. Perhaps she had a sense of how precious strikes were going to be in the inning.  

Team USA’s starter walked Cox and eventually walked the bases loaded with two outs. She couldn’t buy a call on the outside and struggled to find her spot up in the zone. But approaching  40 pitches in the inning, she finally got a call to go her way to strike out Georgia Hood. 

After scoring just two runs in three games against Team USA this summer, Australia had a chance to put up crooked numbers and put the hosts under pressure. Such chances don’t come along very often. 

Team USA takes the lead  

It didn’t take Team USA long to twist the knife. McCleney led off the bottom of the first with a single and moved to second on a hard-hit Amanda Lorenz grounder that ricocheted off Australian pitcher Ellen Roberts before it was corralled by the second baseman. 

With McCleney in scoring position, Hannah Flippen lined a single into center field. McCleney was already taking an aggressive turn at third and might have come home anyway, but a bobble in center field allowed the opening run to score easily and Flippen to take second base. 

Carda finds fifth gear 

Cameras spotted Montana Fouts warming up as Carda struggled in the first inning. Perhaps that was part of the normal routine for someone likely to see action at some point during the game. Still, it suggested a potentially busy night for the bullpen – and maybe even a need to call on Monica Abbott, who Team USA presumably preferred to save for a potential gold medal game. 

Instead, Carda gave her fellow pitchers most of the night off. After loading the bases in the first inning on those walks, Australia put just one runner on base in the next four innings. Carda really should have been working on a no-hitter through five innings. The lone hit against her was Belinda White’s infield single in the top of the second that should have been scored an error. 

Her offspeed suddenly dancing and her rise sharp, Carda struck out two batters in the third inning and two more in the fourth inning. She needed barely five pitches to set the side down in order in the fifth inning. 

In all, she worked five shutout innings, struck out six and allowed just one dubious hit. 

McCleney has her Alabama moment 

McCleney led off the first and third innings with almost identical opposite-field singles, almost parrying Roberts’ pitches. For all of that, as much of a nuisance as she was in the leadoff spot, Australia would have desperately loved to see her begin the bottom of the fifth inning, too. 

Instead, McCleney’s third plate appearance came an inning earlier, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth after Taylor Pleasants walked, Bubba Nickles singled and Janae Jefferson walked. And unlike Carda in the first inning, there was no escaping this jam for Roberts. 

Attacking rather than parrying, McCleney pulled the first pitch she saw over the right fielder’s head, the extra-base hit bringing home all three runners for a 4-0 lead. McCleney advanced to third on the throw home that failed to nab Jefferson. That additional base came in handy when McCleney later scored ahead of the third out on a first-and-third play for a 5-0 lead. 

It wasn’t a electric night at the plate for Team USA, which settled for nine walks and just two hits from players who aren’t from nearby Morris, Alabama. But McCleney took advantage to show just how much one batter can influence a game. 

Not bad for the former Crimson Tide star’s first day as a 28-year-old. 

Montana Fouts keeps the locals celebrating 

Whatever the reason Fouts was warming up in the first inning, it worked. With Carda’a work done, Fouts entered the game in the top of the sixth inning and promptly struck out the first five batters she faced. The sixth didn’t fare all that much better, a meek groundout ending the game. 

Notable lines

  • Ally Carda: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 6 K, 3 BB
  • Montana Fouts: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 5 K, 0 BB
  • Haylie McCleney: 3-3, BB, 3 RBI, 2 R, SB
  • Hannah Flippen: 1-2, 2 BB, 1 RBI 
  • Bubba Nickles: 1-2, 1 BB