LIMA, Peru — Team USA picked up their third run-rule victory of the 2019 Pan American Games in a 9-0 (six innings) shutout over No. 16 Venezuela. Held to just one hit through the first four innings of play, it took five innings for the hits to find the gaps, but once they did the team never looked back. A five-run fifth inning, fueled by a Delaney Spaulding (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) grand slam, and a four-run sixth inning, highlighted by a three-run, walk off home run by Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.), locked up the win.
“Venezuela proved why they are a tough team to beat,” said WNT Head Coach, Ken Eriksen (Tampa, Fla./Head Coach at South Florida) on Venezuela keeping Team USA scoreless through four complete innings. “Their pitching staff came out and kind of held us at bay there for a little bit. Dejah Mulipola, in her first start ever at the Pan American Games, called a really great game behind the dish and had a really good game at the plate. Our pitchers also did their job by keeping the other team at zero. It was nice to see us do the right things at the right time.”
Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.) got her first start of her Pan American Games career and came out firing with a strikeout before a single up the middle put an early base runner on for Venezuela. A ground ball back to Garcia in the circle got the lead runner out and a strikeout recorded the third out.
Entering today’s contest with a tournament-leading .369 team batting average, Venezuela’s Michelle Floyd limited Team USA to just one hit through the first four innings. In the bottom of the first, Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) and Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) walked to put two on base but a called strike ended the first inning.
Dejah Mulipola (Garden Grove, Calif.) got the first hit of the game for Team USA in the bottom of the second, nearly sending a ball out of the park for a double, but a softly hit fly ball was caught by the third baseman to keep the U.S. off the board.
A leadoff hit batter was all the offense Venezuela mustered in the top of the third to bring the Red, White and Blue back to the plate. Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) reached on a single but was called out stealing second, halting the U.S. rally.
The offense sparked in the bottom of the fifth inning with Mulipola’s second hit of the contest for a leadoff base runner. A walk to Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) put two on until a bunt single from McCleney loaded the bases. Merritt drove in the first run of the game with a sac fly to right field, making it a 1-0 ballgame for Team USA.
An intentional walk to Arioto with two outs continued the rally for the U.S. before a beast of a grand slam by Spaulding cleared the bases to give Team USA a comfortable 5-0 lead.
“I was really just trying to score the runner at third base,” said Spaulding postgame on her grand slam. “It was just a bonus that the ball went out of the park.”
Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.), who entered the circle in relief for Garcia in the top of the fifth, got a strikeout and pair of groundouts to keep Venezuela off the base paths to bring the WNT back to the plate. The second double of the game by Mulipola put a runner in scoring position with one out and a passed ball allowed Mulipola to advance to third. A popup looked to quash another scoring opportunity for the home team, but a single from McCleney plated the sixth run of the contest.
The offense kept going after McCleney stole second and took advantage of an overthrow to scoot over to third base. Merritt was then hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners for Aguilar, who ended the game in walk off fashion with a home run over the centerfield fence to end the game via the run-rule.
At the plate, Mulipola had a perfect 3-for-3 day at the plate with a pair of doubles and a single. McCleney went 3-for-4 with two runs scored while Spaulding drove in four runs and Aguilar drove in three. Ricketts earned the win in her relief effort, closing out the last one and one-third innings with not a single ball thrown and two strikeouts. Garcia issued five strikeouts and allowed one hit through four and two-third innings of work in the circle.
Spaulding and Aguilar currently sit first and second atop the RBI leaderboard at the 2019 Pan American Games, with Spaulding driving in 11 runs through four contests while Aguilar has driven in eight. McCleney also stands atop the Pan American Games leaderboard with seven runs scored and a .786 batting average.
With the win, Team USA locked up the No. 1 seed for the semifinal rounds, which begin on Friday, August 9.
“It’s been great competition, so we’re just taking it one pitch at a time and playing USA Softball,” Spaulding added when asked about Team USA’s path to the podium. “We expect the best from ourselves each and every game, which is the USA Softball standard.”
Team USA concludes preliminary rounds on August 8 with a 4 p.m. CT matchup against host country, No. 20 Peru. Team USA and Peru have faced off only once in Pan American Games history, with the U.S. earning the win.
Live stats will be available throughout the Pan American Games and fans at home can follow along with recaps and more at USASoftball.com.
About USA Softball
USA Softball is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., and is designated as the National Governing Body (NGB) of Softball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. One of the nation’s largest sports organizations, USA Softball sanctions competition through a network of Local Associations, which includes all 50 states and select metro associations, and has grown from a few hundred teams in the early days to over 150,000 teams today, representing a membership of more than 2 million. USA Softball is dedicated to providing people of all ages the opportunity to play the game they love at a variety of levels by offering recreational, league, tournament and competitive play for fast pitch, slow pitch and modified pitch. USA Softball annually conducts thousands of tournaments throughout the country including over 100 National Championships. The USA Softball umpire program is among the nation’s largest and are widely known as the best-trained umpires in the game.
As the NGB for the sport of softball, USA Softball is responsible for training, equipping and promoting the six USA Softball National Teams that compete in events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games, World Championships and other international and domestic events. For more information on USA Softball, including its founding and history as the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), please visit www.USASoftball.com.