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Late surge lifts USA at World Cup of Softball

Friday, July 22, 2011 | 10:44 p.m. CDT; updated 11:01 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 22, 2011
Former Missouri player Rhea Taylor celebrates after scoring the first run in Team USA's 5-2 victory against Australia on Friday at the World Cup of Softball at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. She scored on a hit by Stacy May-Johnson of Iowa.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Even without any Olympic veterans, the U.S. softball team is still quick to pounce on any miscue by an opponent.

Valerie Arioto had a two-run triple and the U.S. scored three unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth to beat Australia 5-2 Friday night at the World Cup of Softball.

Australia, the bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Cup runner-up, came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie it before letting the U.S. (2-0) pull ahead again.

"Just because they come back, you still have the hammer, the way we can swing the bat and make things happen," first-year coach Ken Eriksen said.

Gone are Jennie Finch, Jessica Mendoza, Cat Osterman and the other stars of America's past. But the heroes of tomorrow are emerging every day for the U.S.

Arioto came up with two outs after Justine Smethurst intentionally walked Brittany Schutte. Arioto hit a liner into shallow left that Verity Long-Droppert missed on a diving attempt. The ball rolled to the wall and two runs scored.

Arioto, a U.S. rookie, admitted having "a little butterflies" after Schutte was walked to bring her up in a clutch situation.

"I kind of saw it coming, so I was ready for it and prepared," Arioto said. "I was kind of glad they did it. I wanted to be the one up there."

Taylor Hoagland added an RBI single for the final margin.

The rally got started after Stacy May-Johnson reached on third baseman Stacy Porter's fielding error with one out and advanced on a groundout.

"Obviously it happened at the right time and got us going," said May-Johnson, who homered in the Americans' World Cup opener. "Val came up with the big hit and we were able to have a big inning."

Keilani Ricketts (1-0) gave up an RBI single to pinch hitter Jodie Stevenson — the first batter she faced after entering in the top of the sixth — and then got four straight outs before giving up a walk and single to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs in the seventh.

Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas earned the save for the second straight night, striking out Chelsea Forkin to end the game.

"You've got to come to work every day," Eriksen said. "That's a good win."

Third baseman Jenae Leles, one of only three players on the U.S. roster with national team experience, left the game in the fifth after twisting her right ankle while fielding a bunt. Trainers examined her knee in the dugout and she was on crutches after the game.

"She's OK. Just turned the ankle a little bit," Eriksen said. "More scary than anything else. It's precautionary. We'll keep her on crutches tonight. I think she'll be ready to go tomorrow night."

On Saturday, the Americans face their top two rivals — 2008 gold medalist Japan and Canada.

The United States has suffered only three losses at the World Cup, once last year to Canada and twice at the inaugural event in 2005, but is in rebuilding mode after several veterans decided not to play for the national team this year.

Each of the first two games has been a nail-biter for the once-dominant Americans.

"I think you learn a lot more from a competitive game than you do a game where it's lopsided. I think it was a good growing experience for us," May-Johnson said. "It was good for us to get out on the field and have to work for something, have to fight for it and battle for it and to come out on top."

Smethurst (1-2) took her second tough loss of the day. She carried a shutout into extra innings before giving up Yu Yamamoto's three-run home run in the eighth inning of a 3-0 loss to Japan (2-0) earlier.

Four of the five U.S. runs came with two outs.

"You'd love to coach this team with two outs because that party's never over," Eriksen said. "We might start the party at two, but it never ends sometimes."

Former Missouri player Rhea Taylor, who had been lifted for a pinch hitter in the fourth before Kelly Grieve was caught stealing, re-entered and started a rally for the U.S. in the fifth. She bunted for a single, stole second easily and then scored on May-Johnson's flare to right-center. Schutte added an RBI double over the head of Michelle Cox in left to make it 2-0.

Australia (2-2) cut the deficit in half in the fifth. Long-Droppert reached on a leadoff bunt single, advanced on a passed ball and a sacrifice, and then scored when Clare Warwick bounced a single past a diving May-Johnson into left field.

Canada (2-1) notched a 7-0 win against Czech Republic (0-3) in five innings and a 6-4 win against Great Britain (0-2) in games played earlier Friday.

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