LIMA, Peru — Highland grad Rachel Garcia has yet another medal to add to her ever-growing trophy case (which still needs to be crafted).
Garcia and the USA Softball Women’s National Team defeated Canada 3-1 on Saturday to win the Gold Medal at the Pan American Games.
The team also defeated Puerto Rico 3-1 in the Bronze Medal Game to reach the championship game on Saturday.
The U.S improved it’s overall Pan American Games record to 100-5 since it debuted in 1979 and avenged a Silver Medal finish at the hands of Canada at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games. In total, the U.S. has Gold Medals in 1979, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2019.
“We didn’t go crazy and dogpile after we won the Gold today,” said USA head coach Ken Eriksen. “It’s not that we didn’t expect to win, we did expect to win. It’s not that we thought it was a surprise that we won and were over-celebratory. This is still a part of the climb of where we’re trying to go to in 2020, and this was a part of the journey.”
Monica Abbott earned both wins with two complete games in the circle.
“Monica Abbott put the team on her back today,” Eriksen said. “She threw 14 innings, two complete games…she was a bulldog. All her training, both her physical and mental training, paid off when it needed to today.
“I was very impressed with the maturity level of the team. We didn’t let the little things get to us. We might not have been the most comfortable at the plate. We might not have been the most comfortable coming through the Bronze Medal Game to capture the Gold, but the one thing we were was steady in our emotions. That bodes well.”
Abbott allowed one run on three hits and no walks with 11 strikeouts against Puerto Rico and went on to allow one run on four hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts against Canada.
“It was great to see us come out and win the Gold,” said Abbott. “We knew we had to come out and beat Puerto Rico, which we knew was going to be a tough game. That was our path to get a chance for the Gold again against Canada, who gave us a tough time (Friday). I’m really just proud of this team and how we came together, both offensively and defensively, and made plays when we needed to.”
Puerto Rico went ahead 1-0 on a solo home run in the top of the second inning of the Bronze Medal Game, but the U.S. responded with two runs in the bottom half to take the lead.
Garcia started the offense for Team USA in the bottom of the second with a one-out double and advanced to third on a single from Kirsti Merritt. Merritt stole second, but a strikeout kept the runners at bay until Aubree Munro singled to plate the two runs and give the Red, White and Blue a one-run lead.
The 2-1 score held until the bottom of the fourth inning when Merritt was hit by a pitch with one out to give the U.S. a base runner. An intentional walk to Munro put two on for Janie Reed, who singled to bring Merritt in and make it a 3-1 ballgame.
Garcia finished 0-for-3 in the Gold Medal Game against Canada, but her teammates stepped up.
Michelle Moultrie blasted a solo home run with two outs on her first pitch of the game in the bottom of the second to give Team USA an early 1-0 lead. Garcia reached on a dropped fly ball to left field to put another on for the U.S., but a deep fly ball was caught for the third out of the inning.
Canada tied up the ballgame in the top of the fourth inning with a solo home run from Holly Speers with two outs and threatened again in the top of the fifth. A leadoff single and hit batter put two on with one out, but a diving play by USA’s Haylie McCleney in center field kept the runners at bay.
A heads-up play by Ali Aguilar to tag the runner going to second base on a ball up the middle got the U.S. out of the inning unscathed.
The tie didn’t last long as the U.S. strung together hits to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Valerie Arioto and Delaney Spaulding hit back-to-back singles to put two on for Moultrie, who singled with a fly ball to right field to drive in a run and give Team USA a one run lead.
“It was great that Val and Delaney got our offense started by getting on base before me to give our team a chance to get a run,” Moultrie said. “Coach Eriksen gave me the hit away sign, so I just went up there swinging.”
Two strikeouts kept runners at first and second base until Stewart reached on an infield single to shortstop. The first basemen mishandled the throw, allowing Spaulding to safely score on the play and put the WNT up by two and three outs away from the win.
Canada made the game interesting in the top of the seventh with a leadoff single, but a strikeout from Abbott and fly ball quickly recorded two outs. An infield single continued the momentum for Canada, but Abbott fired in a strikeout for the last out of the game to give Team USA the 3-1 win.
“Aubree came out a couple times [to the circle] and she told me she believed in me and that the team was here for me,” said Abbott when asked how she bore down during her two outings in the circle in one day. “She was pumping confidence into me and I just tried to pitch with that heart and passion that she was giving to me.”
Moultrie and Spaulding each had 2-for-3 outings at the plate in the win with Moultrie driving in two runs.
The WNT will take a 10-day break before reuniting at the Marine Corp Air Station (MCAS) in Iwakuni, Japan, for training prior to the 2019 Japan Cup. The annual event will take place Aug. 30-Sept.1 in Takasaki City, Japan, where Team USA will compete alongside No. 2 Japan, No. 6 Chinese Taipei and No. 15 Czech Republic.