By Jim Armstrong, AP Sports Writer
MAKUHARI, Japan (AP) — Pitcher Rachel Garcia drove in the winning run in the eighth inning Saturday to lift the United States to a 4-3 win over Japan and into the final of the women’s world softball championship.
It also gave the Americans a chance to qualify for the Olympics.
With a runner on third base, Garcia hit a line drive to the gap in left-center field to seal the win. The defending champions will face either Japan or Canada in Sunday’s final of a tournament that doubles as a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Yu Yamamoto gave the hosts the lead in the first inning with a two-run homer to right field off American starter Monica Abbott.
Japan knocked Abbott out of the game in the third after a single and a double. Kelly Barnhill came in to record one out then was replaced by Keilani Ricketts, who surrendered a run to a fielder’s choice as Japan took a 3-0 lead.
Aubree Munroe hit a solo home in the bottom of the third and Valeri Arioto drove in another run to cut the lead to 3-2.
Kelsey Stewart hit a solo homer to left in the fifth to tie the game 3-3.
The winner of the tournament will be awarded an Olympic spot. If Japan wins, the second-place finisher will get the Olympic spot because Japan has an automatic berth as host.
Softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympic program after the 2008 Beijing Games but have been restored for 2020.
Canada beat Puerto Rico 10-4 and Australia 12-0 in four innings and will face Japan tomorrow with a chance to advance to the final.
Victoria Heyward and Erica Polidori both drove in three runs in Canada’s win over Australia that assured the North Americans a medal.
Canadian pitcher Danielle Lawrie picked up the win after striking out six and giving up four hits over four scoreless innings.
The countries that don’t qualify for the six-team Olympic competition at the worlds might have a second chance at continental tournaments next year.