OKLAHOMA CITY — The United States' new era of softball stars now have a title of their own.
Replacing the Olympians of America's past, Taylor Hoagland hit a two-run home run, Valerie Arioto and Megan Langenfeld had RBI singles and the U.S. beat rival Japan 6-4 Monday night to win its fifth straight World Cup of Softball championship.
Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas came on in relief for the United States in the sixth inning of Monday's game. She faced five batters, walking one and allowing a hit, but striking out none. Keliani Ricketts came on in the seventh with runners on first and second to earn the save, facing three batters and striking out one.
Jordan Taylor (1-0) retired the first eight batters she faced and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, never letting the Americans fall behind after they grabbed a 2-0 lead without needing a hit in the first inning.
"It feels amazing, just because nobody really knew who this group of girls was," said Taylor, who just finished her college career at Michigan.
"We were just kind of underground a little bit. It definitely felt good to come out and still show that USA softball is staying strong."
Many of the familiar faces were missing in this World Cup, with no Olympic veterans on the U.S. roster as the sport won't be played on that stage until at least 2020 — if then.
Jennie Finch and slugger Crystl Bustos are among the veterans who have retired since the 2008 games, and others decided to play pro ball instead of continuing on Team USA.
The Japanese were without injured ace Yukiko Ueno, a nemesis for the U.S. with wins including the 2008 gold medal game, the 2005 World Cup title game and a three-hit shutout in Canada earlier this month.
The title still meant something for the sport's two powerhouses, with the U.S. getting even for a 7-0 loss in the championship game of the Canada Cup earlier this month.
The Americans won the first three Olympic gold medals and have won the past seven world championships, but Japan holds the gold medal from the 2008 Olympics. The teams have met in the finals in five of the six World Cups, with the U.S. winning four times.
"It's a new era, so we're trying to make a name for ourselves," Hoagland said. "Especially coming in from the Canada Cup, where Japan had previously beat us, it's nice to get a little payback."
Makiko Fujiwara (1-2) started in Ueno's place and walked four straight batters in the first before Brittany Schutte's sacrifice fly put the U.S. up 2-0.
Hoagland's two-run blast that made it 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth proved crucial when Michelle Moultrie dropped Eri Yamada's two-out fly to deep left in the seventh. Two runs scored and Yamada reached third, but Misa Okubo popped up a bunt try to Keilani Ricketts to end the game.
Ricketts, who got the final two outs, earned the save.
"You never sneeze at a win. No matter how good it looks or how ugly it is, it's still a win," first-year coach Ken Eriksen said. "We have to celebrate the little things.
"We've got a lot of work to do. There's no doubt about it."
The U.S. let Japan score without a hit in the fifth, then gave away another on Hoagland's throwing error in the sixth. Only one of the four runs by the Japanese was earned.
"If you told me we were going to win after committing four errors in a ballgame, I'd have told you you were drinking," Eriksen said.
Eriksen blamed the sloppiness on youth and growing continuity. Some players are still in college, and others just finished it. But none have been playing together until this summer.
"We had an All-Star team that played together," Eriksen said. "They're beginning to know each other."
The goal is to keep improving for the Pan Am Games later this year, and eventually the world championships next year.
"We've been fighting, we've been enemies forever," Taylor said. "Throw a group of girls like that together, and it's good to know that you can come together in such a short period of time."
Taylor, who struck out the only four Japanese batters she faced on Saturday night, retired the first eight in order before Yumi Iwabuchi reached on Jenae Leles' throwing error with two outs in the third. Leles fielded Iwabuchi's grounder about halfway down the third-base line, but Valerie Arioto couldn't scoop her throw in the dirt at first.
Schutte then threw out Iwamuchi trying to steal second.
When the Japanese finally got their first hit, it proved to be a costly one. After Japan got within 3-1 on Rie Nagayoshi's RBI groundout in the fifth, Haruka Kageyama was credited with a single when her grounder hit Mika Suzuki as she ran down the third base line.
Japan coach Reika Utsugi protested, and then returned to home plate umpire Traci Stoelting to motion for her to look at a replay, to no avail. Kazuki Watanabe, the next hitter, followed with an infield single to the hole at shortstop.
The U.S. caught a break in the third when Kaitlin Cochran appeared to be out at third on a triple to the gap in right, just before Arioto's RBI single to right. Langenfeld had a pinch-hit single to bump the lead to 4-1 in the fifth.