THUNDER BAY - In front of more than a thousand fans at Thunder Bay's Baseball Central ballpark, Canadian starting pitcher Alli Schroder (Fruitvale, BC) did Team Canada's batters a favour by retiring Team USA 1-2-3 to begin the fifth and final game of the 2022 Friendship Series, striking out two and inducing a pop up to shortstop Ellie Jesperson (Spruce Grove, AB). While that might not sound uncommon, it was the first time the Canadian women's national team prevented the Americans from scoring in the first inning, as they had plated a total of nine runs in the first innings of the previous four games.
BOX SCORE Canada 8, USA 4
On queue, Schroder's inspired teammates exploded for an eight-run, eight-hit, bottom of the first, off of Game 1 winning pitcher Kelsie Whitmore, who had previously tossed five scoreless innings against the Canucks to open the series. Schroder returned that volley by throwing five scoreless innings, limiting the US to just three singles, while striking out five, on just 63 pitches. Team USA fought back with four-spot off of Schroder in the sixth, as it took her another 30 pitches to close out that inning. But Tess Sawkins (Victoria, BC) kept the Americans off the board in the seventh and final inning, with a flyout to centre fielder Emma Carr, and another pair of flyouts to left fielder Mia Valcke.
"I told the team that they had better look deep inside and find a way to win today, and that's all there is to it," said Manager Ashley Stephenson, after dropping three of the first four games of the series, being held at Thunder Bay's Baseball Central ballpark.
The 15-year national team veteran's troops followed those instructions indeed. After leadoff hitter Ellie Jesperson flew out to begin the bottom half of the first inning, Valcke lined a single to left field to begin the unexpected outpour of runs. Daphnée Gélinas (Repentigny, QC) stroked a single to right field, and Alizée Gélinas (Trois Rivieres, QC) received a base on balls to load the bases. Hot-hitting Maddie Willan (Edmonton, AB), who was six-for-eight, a .750 batting average, coming into the game, ripped a run-scoring single to centre field, with Reese Velocci (Toronto, ON) and Stacy Fournier (Surrey, BC) following suit, putting Canada up 3-0. After the second out of the inning, Sena Catterall (Pierefonds, QC), with the bases still loaded, smacked a two-run single, turning the line-up back over to Jespersen, who drove in Fournier with a base hit. Valcke hammered a line drive the the centre fielder's head to the warning track to bring home Caterall and Jespersen, giving the Canadians an eight-run lead.
After committing a total of 14 defensive errors over the first four games, Canada's defense sparkled on this day, playing to their potential, to say the least. The play of the day went to Jespersen in the top of the second inning when the USA was threatening with one out and runners on first and second base. Their leading hitter, Ashton Lansdell, scorched a line drive that appeared destined for centre field, but the shortstop leapt to her left and barely snagged the Howitzer, then relayed her throw to first before the runner was able to tag up, ending the uprising.
"I was really happy with the series," said Manager Ashley Stephenson. "We got off to a tough start, but we knew our group was young and that we'd have to build. Today was kind of the peak of our five days, we started off with a bang but for me the biggest thing was our pitching performances.
"Against the US, it's always such a big rivalry, we know they're a good team and that it would be a big test for us so we're really happy with our performance overall."
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