The U.S. softball team, coached by USF's Ken Eriksen, has defended it world championship and earned a berth for the sport's return to the Olympics in 2020 in the process.
The Olympic bid was secured in Sunday's wee hours (local time) when Japan topped Canada to advance to the final of the world championship in Japan. That victory set up a rematch against the Americans in the gold-medal contest.
The tournament champion earned a spot in the Olympics, but since Japan is hosting the Games and earns an automatic berth, the U.S. claimed the berth regardless of the title-game outcome.
The United States topped Japan 7-6 in 10 innings, clinching the gold on former Florida star Kelsey Stewart's walkoff single down the third-base line. Former UCLA standout Delaney Spaulding led the Americans with a home run and four RBIs.
WALK-OFF WIN. ���� pic.twitter.com/6dkSyMzfBB— espnW (@espnW) August 12, 2018
The Americans also had defeated the host nation 4-3 in eight innings Saturday to secure a spot in the championship game.
"Been around a long time, won a few gold medals," Eriksen, whose team went undefeated in 10 tournament games, said via text message Sunday. "But to have to defend this world championship with the implication of one qualifying spot to the Olympics puts this victory in a whole other category."
BACK-TO-BACK WORLD CHAMPIONS! ������ pic.twitter.com/ogZoOv3a34— USA Softball (@USASoftball) August 12, 2018
Softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympic program after the 2008 Games but have been restored for 2020. The United States won Olympic softball gold medals in 1996, 2000 and '04.
The women who represent the United States at the 2020 Games will be selected that year. Eriksen, entering his 23rd season as USF skipper, appears a favorite to continue as the U.S. coach. He was an assistant on the '04 team that won the gold in Athens, Greece.
"What this version of the national team has done the last two years cannot be described adequately enough," Eriksen said. "I think they are going to become household names like the past teams that played in the Games."