Canada turning heads at the Worlds
* Veteran Ashley Stephenson likes the look of the Canadian team at the Women’s World Cup ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
Team Canada players wanted to use this year’s Women’s World Cup to show everybody that they’re for real.
So far, they have done just that.
The Canadian women have started the tournament in Edmonton with five straight wins. With each victory the host team has brought something new to the table, showing its various strengths and reiterating the fact that they will find a way to win against anybody.
“We’ve had a couple games where our bats were just on fire, had a close game that we won, had an extra-inning game,” five-time World Cup veteran Ashley Stephenson said. “So we’ve had a little bit of everything and I think that prepares us nicely for the rest of the tournament.”
Many have said that this is the best women’s team that Canada has ever put on the field. Stephenson would know, since she is one of the only two remaining members of the national squad from when it was formed in 2004.
“One through nine, everybody’s finding a way to get on base; everybody’s finding a way to contribute,” the third baseman said. “Obviously there are a few people who have been playing really well but every single game I feel like it’s somebody else who steps up for us, which is nice because everybody gets a chance to be a leader and be the hero, game in and game out.”
Entering the tournament, one of the biggest challenges Canada thought it was going to have to face was putting up the best offensive numbers it has ever had. It doesn’t appear to be a problem, however, as the team has already forced three wins by way of the mercy rule.
“The pitching here obviously is good but we’ve been seeing the ball well, people are being really patient at the plate and just waiting for their pitch,” Stephenson said. “Everything seems to be falling right now, which is nice, but we’re hitting the ball hard and creating opportunities for ourselves.
“Andre [Lachance, head coach,] is always harping on our defence, and we know that if we have fewer errors than the other team, usually you’re going to come out on top. So our bats will follow suit as long as we play good defence. That’s still our priority.”
Canada needed its bats more than ever for its Monday matchup against Team USA. With a pretty safe-looking seven-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh in a seven-inning game, the women from north of the border felt good. That is, until the Americans tied it up and sent the game to extras.
An inning like that could deflate any team, dampen spirits and crush confidence. But, as Lachance alluded to before the tournament began, this isn’t a team that gives up.
“Whatever the score is, we’re going to fight until the umpire says game over,” he said on Friday. “We’ll never quit. These guys have shown it in the past also that whatever the score is, we’re going to battle hard. We have lots of people with dedication and they’ll fight until the end, whoever the opponent is. We’re going to be there until the last out is made.”
That’s exactly what happened in the contest between the two North American teams. The Canucks battled back in the top of the eighth, held out the Yanks in the bottom, and won it by a score of 15-9.
“It says a lot about our team,” Stephenson said. “Obviously we weren’t happy giving up seven runs in the bottom of the seventh. But we had a huge strikeout. There were runners at second and third and that game could have been over with a base hit, so a huge strikeout gave us a chance to come back …
“I don’t think any one of us thought we were going to lose that game. We weren’t happy with giving up a lead but we knew we just had one inning, we had to win and we had been playing well all game. For six innings we were all over them. We had to win one more and we would have liked to do it in seven but a win is a win so that was good.”
The 29-year-old infielder believes that was the game that helped solidify the impression that Canada knew it could make.
“We wanted to go out there and prove that we can beat any team in this tournament and they were one of the front runners,” Stephenson said. “We wanted to come out with a strong performance. I think we showed everybody that we’re for real and hopefully we can continue to do that for the rest of the tournament.”
With plenty of important games left to play, the veteran thinks that her team can continue on the roll that they’ve started, and the home crowd can expect more of the same success that they’ve already witnessed.
“Like Andre said before, we’re going to battle to the last out,” Stephenson said. “Right now excitement is extremely high; we’re feeling really confident…So far pitching has been fantastic for us, defence has been extremely solid, making very few errors and a lot of really nice plays in the field, and our bats have come alive.
“Hopefully we keep swinging and I think a lot of what we’ve done is going to follow suit for the rest of the tournament.”