The U.S arrived in China determined to put on a show of power, precision and poise. And except for a tense, nine-inning 4-1 win over Ueno and Japan in the semifinals, the Americans had done just that. That game was by far their toughest test in the tournament--until they met Ueno again in the final.
"She just beat us," U.S. starter Cat Osterman said. "I'm not hanging my head too much about it."
One of the few players in the field who could win a roster spot on the U.S. squad, Ueno stopped the Americans on a cool, drizzly night. The day before, she had pitched 21 innings--the equivalent of three complete games--to get her team to the gold-medal match.
Less than 24 hours later she was back on the mound and appeared no worse for it. The 26-year-old Ueno was handed the ball again by coach Haruka Saito, who didn't have many other options against the U.S. team's relentless top-to-bottom attack.
Though it's rare for a pitcher at this level to work consecutive days, Ueno's performance can stand with any in these games. Not only was it physically demanding in China's thick air, but she couldn't afford a misstep in two matchups with the U.S. or against the free-swinging Aussies, who won bronze.
"This isn't how it was supposed to end," said one U.S. player. Maybe by the time softball returns to the Olympics, the next generation of U.S. softballers won't enter international competition with that kind of presumption of dominance. Tell Morgan Pressel about it. (Or, for that matter, tell the Brazilian women's soccer team. The U.S. upset them for the gold. Globalization makes domination all the more difficult to maintain. For anyone.)