Aussies smashed in Olympic softball opener

·2-min read

Australia waited 13 years for softball's Olympic return, now they have a single day to restore confidence and their bid for gold after losing 8-1 to Japan in the opening event at the Tokyo Games.

Two-run home runs from Minori Naito and Yamato Fujita, in the third and fourth innings respectively, underlined Japan's dominance as empty stands and limited fanfare in Fukushima marked the competitive start of the Olympics.

The mercy rule was invoked when Yu Yamamoto cleared the fence for another two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, boosting the reigning Olympic champions' lead to seven runs and ending the match in the process.

There is scant time for the Spirit to dwell on the shellacking.

Australia return to the same venue for a crunch clash with Italy at 4pm AEST on Thursday.

The top two sides in the six-team competition advance directly to Tuesday's gold-medal match, so another defeat would be a hammer blow to Australia's hopes of securing their first Olympic gold medal in the sport.

Captain Stacey Porter, the only player in Australia's squad to have previously competed at an Olympics, insists her squad will rally.

"We knew game one was going to be tough," Porter said.

"We'll do our recovery, watch some video.

"We have to get back up. I'll make sure the girls are in a good headspace tomorrow."

Pitcher Mana Kuwabara and catcher Himeno Miyata, local school students who experienced the region's earthquake in 2011, combined for the ceremonial first pitch.

The absence of fans, just 11 days after COVID-19 cases forced the local government to give up hope of a crowd, created what Porter termed a "different atmosphere".

"Us Aussies can create an atmosphere, that's what we did within the dugout," the 39-year-old said.

The sense of occasion clearly did not unsettle the Spirit, who played with more composure throughout the first dig.

An uncharacteristically skittish start from pitcher Yukiko Ueno, whose list of accomplishments include the only seven-inning perfect game in the history of the Olympics, helped the visitors seize momentum.

Ueno walked Stacey Porter then hit batters Taylah Tsitsikronis and Chelsea Forkin, resulting in the opening run of the tournament.

"She (Ueno) didn't show it outside but I think she was crying inside with the overwhelming feeling and joy," Japan coach Utsugi Reika said.

"She was over-thinking."

Catcher Tsitsikronis was called for obstruction in the bottom of the first, allowing Naito to level the score with the first of her three runs.

The game remained locked at 1-1 until Naito smashed her center-field homer off Kaia Parnaby.

"I was really relaxed and in a good mental space. I'm actually more nervous now, at the press conference," Naito said.

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