Australia wins fifth world title

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Team Australia celebrates after winning the 2018 WBSC Junior Men's Softball World Championship Sunday afternoon.

After winning four straight titles, Australia hadn’t reached the top step of the podium at the WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship in a decade.

That all changed Sunday at Rotary Field in Prince Albert.

Thanks to a complete game no-hitter and a 14 strikeout performance by their ace Layton Reid, Australia captured their fifth gold medal at the event with a 6-1 win over Japan.

“Nothing can top this,” shortstop Jeremy Waters said. “This is the best feeling I’ve ever had playing the game.

“To be world champions…there’s nothing like it.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Australia’s Layton Reid was doused in water by his teammates shortly after pitching a no-hitter in the gold medal game.

Having struck out 16 batters Friday against Canada, Reid did himself one better in the gold medal contest as he pitched what he believes was his first career no-hitter.

His only blemish on the scoreboard came in the opening frame as Japan’s Wataru Seki scored from second base on a passed ball.

“It took one or two innings to get going, but I felt like I was in a good mindset out there,” Reid said.

“My teammates were behind me all the way and they were able to calm the nerves that I had at the start of the game.”

Reid was helped out by a pair of home runs from his teammates, as Ryan King launched a bomb to centre field in the third inning and Waters hit a two-run shot in the fourth frame.

“Both of them are capable of coming through with big hits like that,” coach Robert Harrow said.

“We actually moved Jeremy down the lineup a little bit and he took it in stride with two homers for us this.”

Michael Ludkin had a pair of RBI’s in the gold medal game, while Jett Wright rounded out the scoring in the fifth inning as he sprinted home on a passed ball.

After losing 3-2 to Japan in their round-robin finale Thursday, Australia would pick up a 4-2 win in a rematch Saturday before prevailing in Sunday’s rubber match.

“It took some time for us to click as a team, but when we beat Japan on Saturday we knew that we could do this,” Waters said.

“Our intensity level increased as the tournament went on and I think that made a huge difference.”

Sunday’s triumph improved Australia’s record to 5-0 in gold medal games, as they previously won the tournament in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2008.

It was also their first medal since capturing a bronze in 2012.

“When we started to put this team together, they really reminded me of the team that won it all in 2008,” said Harrow, who served as an assistant on the gold medal winning teams in 2001, 2005 and 2008.

“It’s hard to make comparisons with teams at this age group, but I saw a lot of similarities with this team and the one that won 10 years ago.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Team Japan waves to the crowd at Rotary Field Sunday after receiving their silver medals.

Although they came up one win short of repeating as World Champions and earning their third gold medal in the process, Japan was able to make the podium for the sixth straight tournament.

“Our guys felt relaxed out there and there were no nerves today, especially as we had played Australia already this week,” coach Yukihiro Tanaka said through a translator.

“However, they played a little bit better than us today.

Pitchers Yugo Kitagawa, Kazuya Umibe and Shota Onodera combined for 15 strikeouts in a losing effort.

Japan was able to punch their ticket into the gold medal game earlier in the day as they topped New Zealand by a score of 5-3 in the semifinal.

“We felt like we could get runs early on them and we were able to execute our game plan,” Tanaka said.

After falling behind 2-0 on first inning homers by Harrison Valk and Riley Makea, Hiroshi Sakata cut the gap to one run with a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame.

Japan would then take control in the bottom of the third as they scored four runs to take a 5-2 lead.

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
New Zealand reacts after losing 5-3 to Japan in Sunday’s semifinal.

Although Brad Carson hit a home run in the top of the seventh inning, the Kiwis were unable to get any closer as they missed out on making the final for a third straight tournament after winning back-to-back silver medals in 2014 and 2016.

“We were in a position to tie the game up at the end, but it’s tough to come back when you give up a four-spot,” coach Thomas Makea said.

“We were nearly done after we lost our first playoff game to Japan Friday, so I’m really proud of how the guys battled back to get on the podium this weekend.”