Sara Groenewegen leads the way towards softball gold medal in epic upset at Pan Am Games

Mirroring the Canadian men’s extra inning gold medal triumph in baseball at the Pan Am Games, Canada’s women accomplished the same heroics in softball. In both contests, Canada prevailed against a favored United States squad on home soil at President’s Choice Pan Am Park in Ajax, Ontario (east of Toronto).

Among a group of remarkable women that contributed to the gold medal win, pitcher Sara Groenewegen may have shined the brightest. Suffering from Type 1 Diabetes, she has not let her illness stand in the way of her chance at sporting glory. Known affectionately as the “Swaggin Wagon”, she tossed a complete game against the US, providing a performance that shall represent a remarkable chapter in Canadian sporting lore.

Adding to the magic of Canada’s softball victory is that it was the bridesmaid to the US in the last four consecutive gold medal matches in Pan Am play. Taking into account that the match was also held on the final day of the Pan Am Games, it was a remarkable way to end the event for host country Canada. The softball gold ensured that Canada had won a gold medal in every day of competition at the Games.

Defeating Puerto Rico by a 7-4 tally to advance to the gold medal game, tensions ran high for Canada as regulation play (consisting of seven innings) resulted in a scoreless tie. Nercous Canadians fans in attendance were hoping for a miracle, as gold would be Canada’s first in women’s softball since 1983.

Heading into extra innings, Canada scored four runs, placing the United States in a rare position where it was not in the lead. Considering that the US entered the gold medal with a 5-0 mark, including two victories against Canada, extra innings was not the anticipated outcome.

International rules state that each team begins with a base runner of choice at second base during extra innings. With Natalie Wideman’s fly ball lost in the sun by shortstop Kellie Fox, it placed two runners on base for Canada.

A single by Joey Lye, who was part of the silver medal winning team at the 2011 Pan Am Games, resulted in a 2-0 advantage, while Kaleigh Rafter was later intentionally walked to load the bases. Jennifer Salling’s sacrifice fly would stand as the game-winning (and gold medal clinching) RBI. Erika Polidori followed by extending Canada’s lead with an RBI single, as it provided Groenwegen with a four-run cushion to work with.

Despite the US scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Groenwegen maintained her composure, providing a calming influence. Although there were runners on first and third, she struck out Sierra Romero to clinch the gold medal. On this momentous day, she allowed only six hits, issued three walks, while striking out six batters for the win that shall immortalize her as a Canadian female sporting legend.

As a side note, US pitcher Jaclyn Traina was credited with the loss. With the Canadian men’s team having also captured the gold medal in softball (a 2-1 triumph against Venezuela), it provides the host nation with a rare double gold.

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