Team Italy manager Enrico Obletter and his 16 softball players took the field at Sydney’s Blacktown International Sportspark to battle Japan in the opening game of the 26-game Asia Pacific Cup tournament on February 1, 2018 knowing that a good showing against the top-ranked powerhouse would garner respect for the Italians in the eyes of many skeptics. Having trained his squad rigorously to prepare them for the biggest international women’s softball event in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games, Italy skipper Enrico Obletter exuded confidence in the international tourney opener. Danger loomed early for Japan in the top of the first inning when Team Italy's Priscilla Brandi walked with two out. She was replaced by speedy pinch-runner Alessandra Rotonda. A single to right field by cleanup hitter Giulia Longhi allowed the runner to advance from first to third. With runners on the corners, Japanese starting pitcher Kana Nakano dug deep to strike out Silvia Refrontolotto and end the Italian scoring threat. Team Italy manager Enrico Obletter called on starter Greta Cecchetti to keep the opening game close, and she did not disappoint. In her five complete innings of work on the mound, pitcher Greta Cecchetti limited the explosive Japanese offense to just two runs. Team Italy's offense showed promise when Mariel Bertossi led off the top of the third inning with a bunt single. She wasted no time in stealing second base to get into scoring position. A perfectly-executed sacrifice bunt by Laura Vigna moved the baserunner over to third. Mariel Bertossi scored Italy's first and only run of the game when Fabrizia Marrone reached first base on a fielder's choice, and the umpire called defensive interference on the catcher at the plate. Starting pitcher Greta Cecchini did exactly what Team Italy manager Enrico Obletter and pitching coach Lisa Birocci Banse asked of her when she gave way to reliever Ilaria Cacciamani trailing by just one run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Japan added an insurance run to their slim lead and eventually prevailed in their 3-1 win over Italy.
Team Italy returned in the afternoon to face fourth-ranked Australia. The host and home team clearly had the advantage considering the jetlagged Italians traveled in the air nearly 24 hours to compete in the 2018 Asia Pacific Cup. Italy's Priscilla Brandi and Giulia Longhi connected with back-to-back singles to left center field in the top of the first inning, but Australia held the Azzurre scoreless. The Aussie offensive attack was relentless as starting pitcher Ilaria Cacciamani gave up five runs in 1.1 innings. Alice Nicolini stopped the bleeding by yielding only one earned run to Australia during her 3.2 innings of effective relief. In the top of the sixth inning, pinch-hitter Beatrice Ricchi singled to right center field in hopes of getting Team Italy on the board, but unfortunately it wasn't enough in the end as Austrailia came up on top 7-0. The fierce competition continues on Friday, February 2 when Italy (0-2) plays up-and-coming China (1-1) and eighth-ranked Chinese Taipei (1-1). Team Italy takes on fifth-ranked New Zealand (0-2) and the Aussie All-Stars (1-1) on Saturday, February 3. The top four teams will advance to the finals while the remaining squads will compete in a consolation round on Sunday, February 4, 2018. The Asia Pacific Cup tourney serves as Team Italy’s first opportunity to get ready for the 2018 World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Women’s Softball World Championship, which takes place in Chiba, Japan, from August 2-12, 2018. The WBSC event will be the first chance for teams to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Forza #Italia! #LetsMakeItHappen
by Roberto Angotti