FUKUSHIMA – Cat Osterman looked ahead, not behind, in the start of the United States’ quest to regain the Olympic softball gold medal, 13 years after she lost the championship game.
A 38-year-old left-hander and one of two remaining players from 2008, Osterman pitched one-hit ball over six innings and struck out nine to beat Italy 2-0 on Wednesday in searing heat and wilting humidity as the Olympics got underway.
“Today was about today,” she said. “If I use ’08 as motivation, then I’m selfish. This is not about me. This is not about a silver medal that happened. This is about this team and allowing these athletes that are younger than me to be able to live out an Olympic dream and hopefully get to that top step on the podium. So today was totally about how are we going to beat Italy and how am I going to help this team get started."
Watch NBC Olympics highlights from Team USA’s first game against Italy
Michelle Moultrie singled in a run in the fourth inning for the top-ranked U.S., which lost the title to Japan 3-1 at the 2008 Beijing Games. Janie Reed, the wife of Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Jake Reed, added a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
“There’s a lot that goes on with just trying to get into a groove of: I’ve always done this. It’s the same game I’ve always played,” said Moultrie, a 31-year-old outfielder who joined the national team in 2011.
Osterman walked none, hit two batters and gave up her only hit to Andrea Filler, a single leading off the fourth. The last remaining player from the 2004 gold medalists and pitching 2 1/2 months before her intended retirement, Osterman improved to 6-1 in Olympic play with 66 strikeouts in 38 innings.
“The body doesn't recover as fast," she said. "Coachie likes to remind me sometimes I'm not as flexible, so I have to adjust my pitches a little bit. But I think the biggest thing is my mentality and my competitiveness has stayed the same.”
Monica Abbott, a 35-year-old lefty who relieved in the 2008 gold medal game, struck out the side in the seventh for the save. She may start Thursday morning's game against Canada, part of an entire Olympics played with no fans.
“It's kind of sad that there can't be any spectators, especially no foreign spectators,” Abbott said. “This is an event that doesn't happen all the time, so it's disappointing not to have people in the stands — but also not having Japanese fans when Japan is such a softball-loving country.”
Players sweated off pounds on the artificial turf.
“We trained in Midland, Texas, were the turf was 150 degrees,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “So we're prepared for Fukushima at 145 degrees.”
Loser Greta Cecchetti, a pitcher for Texas A&M Corpus Christi, allowed two runs and four hits in four-plus innings.
Valerie Arioto led off the fourth with an infield hit up the middle, beating the throw from second baseman Andrea Filler. Ali Aguilar sacrificed, and Moultrie grounded a single on the artificial turf past Filler and into right field, sending Arioto sliding across the plate.
Alexia Lacatena, an 18-year-old from Stanhope, New Jersey, who will pitch for the University of Kentucky next spring, relieved and allowed a sacrifice fly to Reed, whose husband made his big league debut on July 6 and had six appearances before he was optioned Tuesday to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Italy's last nine batters were retired in order.
“'08 we didn't have a bad tournament," Osterman said. "We just had a game that didn't go our way.”
JAPAN 8, AUSTRALIA 1
Yukiko Ueno settled down from a shaky start to allow two hits over 4 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts, and host Japan beat Australia in the first event of the Olympics.
Ueno, 39, defeated the U.S. in the 2008 gold medal game.
Minori Naito and Saki Yamazaki hit two-run homers off loser Kaia Parnaby, and Yu Yamamoto, who had three RBIs, added a two-run drive against Tarni Stepto in the fifth that ended the game under a rout rule.
CANADA 4, MEXICO 0
Sara Groenewegen was removed after four hitless innings of a combined two-hitter, and Jenn Salling drove in two runs.
“We have a pitching plan on how we want to execute innings,” Canada coach Mark Smith said. “Over the next six or seven days, given the heat and the humidity, we know that stamina, maintaining strength is going to be an important thing.”
Groenewegen, the 2015 Big Ten Player of the Year and two-time Big Ten Pitcher of the Year at Minnesota, struck out three and walked one for the win. She was pulled after 54 pitches.
“A no-hitter is a no-hitter. It doesn't mean anything to us,” she said. “We want a gold medal. So if that puts us in a better position to win, then I'm OK with it.”
Jenna Caira, who played for Syracuse, allowed Suzannah Brookshire’s infield single to the shortstop hole with one out in the fifth. Danielle Lawrie, the 34-year-old sister of former major league infielder Brett Lawrie, finished the two-hitter, giving up Tatyana Forbes’ single on a chopper to the right side leading off the sixth.
Kaleigh Rafter and Salling had RBI singles in the first off loser Dallas Escobedo, and Salling’s home run made it 3-0 in the third. Kelsey Harshman, who played for Wisconsin, added a run-scoring single on a 0-2 pitch in the fourth.
Escobedo gave up four runs, seven hits and five walks in four innings for Mexico, which made its Olympic softball debut.
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