Quite possibly the most anticipated game in preliminary round play in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan Am Games, undefeated powerhouses Canada and the US took to the diamond. Facing each other in the last game of the preliminaries, it also represented an exciting new chapter in their epic rivalry.
Host country Canada could feel the excitement of the energizing crowd at President’s Choice Pan Am Field in Ajax, Ontario, as they faced their American rivals for the first time at the Pan Am Games. Looking to win their first-ever medal in international play (the best finish for Canada was silver at the 2008 IBAF Women’s World Cup), the match against the United States would prove to be a litmus test of whether such golden dreams were attainable.
Although Puerto Rico and Venezuela cannot be taken for granted in the medal round, Canada and the United States have shown the ability to explode for power during preliminary play. Taking into account Canada’s ability to excel in later innings, as seen in the comeback win against Puerto Rico, a rematch with their American rivals in the gold medal game would not be unlikely.
As each squad already qualified for the medal round, the degree of pressure may not have been as intense but there were strong feelings of national pride for Canada and the US, as both wanted to prevail in this inaugural meeting. Regardless of the victor, neither would have to play each other in the opening match of medal round, allowing this to be an opportunity for adjustments while other roster members may garner playing time as a preparatory measure.
Gaining the start for Canada was Jessica Berube, while the United States countered with Marti Sementelli, who played men’s baseball at the NAIA level. Berube would surrender the initial hit of the night to first baseman Malaika Underwood, who once played volleyball at the NCAA level with North Carolina. Despite the hit allowed, Berube enjoyed a strong start, striking out leadoff hitter Jade Gortarez and designated hitter Tamara Holmes in the first.
Through her first three innings of work, Sementelli managed to keep Canada scoreless despite allowing four hits. Former Ivy League hockey player Amanda Asay and second baseman Nicole Luchanski logged hits, while catcher Stephanie Savoie and right fielder Jenna Flannigan were the other successful hitters. Ashley Stephenson (a member of the Laurier Golden Hawks Hall of Fame) was Sementelli’s only strikeout as the Canadian batters tested her often.
Although four US strikeouts followed for Berube (she would get left fielder Samantha Cobb to fan twice) in the second and third innings, she collapsed in the top of the fourth, allowing three hits and three runs. Tamara Holmes and second generation player Sarah Hudek, whose father John played in the major leagues, both got on base, eventually scoring. After Berube walked second baseman Jenna Marston, Michelle Snyder got a base hit, extending the American lead to a 3-0 advantage.
Despite Sementelli allowing three more hits, including a walk issued to 17-year old Kelsey Lalor, Canada was not able to chip away at the US lead. Berube managed to strikeout seven batters in 5.1 innings pitched, but the third inning proved to be the turning point. Replaced by Claire Eccles in the fifth inning, she was able to keep the US scoreless, despite walking a pair of batters.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Kelsie Whitmore was brought in to relieve Sementelli, but it did not yield a good result. Stephenson would get her second hit for Canada, as fans were hoping for a rally. Canadian manager Andre Lachance opted for some substitutions afterwards. Kate Psota, an 11-year veteran of the national team was inserted as a pinch hitter for Veronika Boyd. Getting a walk, Psota was replaced by 2014 NCAA Frozen Four champion Daniella Matteucci as a pinch runner.
With a runner in scoring position, Luchanski drove in Stephenson, reducing the US lead to a 3-1 count. The US opted to move Whitmore to right field, replacing her with Hudek on the mound. Striking out Stephanie Savoie, she successfully retired the side, becoming the first female pitcher in the history of Pan Am Games baseball to earn a win (in the opening game against Venezuela) and a save.
One area of encouragement for Canada was the fact that there were five members of the US roster (Gortarez, Cobb, Marston, Brittany Gomez and Anna Kimbrell) that went hitless. In addition, only two members of the US managed more than two putouts (Kimbrell -5, Underwood – 8), while Stephanie Savoie led all Canadian players with seven putouts.
The key stat that Canada has to improve on is the fact that they left seven runners on base. Should Vanessa Riopel or Heidi Northcott take the mound for Canada in a rematch with the United States, the outcome may be more favorable than the 3-1 loss in preliminary round play. For the Canadian team, it would be an opportunity to win double gold in baseball, an unprecedented accomplishment in Pan Am Games history, mirroring Canada’s double gold in ice hockey at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.