* Nicole Luchanski and Canada's Women's National Team are ready for the games that matter. The team rapped out 20 hits in a rain-shortened exhibition game Friday, and they'll open action at the World Cup in Japan on Sept. 1. (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki). .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians drafted .... Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
MIYAZAKI, Japan - The Canadian Women's National Team is prepared for what comes next.
After travelling to Japan in anticipation of the IBAF Women's Baseball World Cup from September 1 to 7 and playing the final of four exhibition games on Friday afternoon in Miyazaki, a five-inning rain-shortened 14-3 victory over Nichinan Gakuen, the squad from north of the border is looking forward to getting into games that matter.
"We have a core group of girls that have been together for a long time," veteran third baseman Ashley Stephenson said. "For the first time in a long time - probably six years - we have depth at the pitching position. Our infielders have worked together for a long time and our outfielders - even though we have some young new outfielders - in the last four warmup games we've played, they've been fantastic.
"The bats came alive today so going into the tournament it's nice to have offense on your side and everybody got to be on the mound and get the nerves out. Getting acclimatized to Japan and the heat, we're just looking forward to getting started. We're ready to go."
Team Canada notched 20 hits in Friday's matchup, with Stephenson (Mississauga, ON) and catcher Stephanie Savoie (La Pocatiere, QC) leading the charge with three hits apiece, the corner infielder also driving in four runs. With an open lineup allowing for positional movement, 13 players batted and every single one reached base at least once.
"Today was good," manager Andre Lachance said. "That was what we needed before we get into the World Cup games, because we were able to get some confidence going offensively. That was something we struggled a little bit with in the last couple of games, so that was a big positive today. We got a lot of hits."
On the mound, Team Canada's skipper got more of what he was looking for, with two of his rookie hurlers coming in to pitch after less-than-ideal outings in the squad's third exhibition game. Sixteen-year-old Claire Eccles (Surrey, B.C.) got the start and in her inning of work she allowed one run on just one hit.
Ella Matteucci (Fruitvale, B.C.) followed the young southpaw and made her first appearance on the hill of the trip. The right-hander went two innings and allowed two runs on two hits with three walks and a wild pitch. Heather Healey (Paradise, NL) threw one scoreless frame, allowing two hits, a walk, and leaving the bases loaded.
"That's also something we wanted to do today," Lachance said. "We started Claire because she struggled last time so we gave her an inning and we wanted to make sure it ended on a positive note, and it did today. It was the same thing with Healey, she came back from last time and everyone was smiling afterward so we achieved our goal of having them happy and feeling ready."
Lachance got a chance to use 17 of the 20 players on his roster in the matchup, getting a feel for the options he might be able to utilize throughout the World Cup tournament, and was excited to see the successes around the diamond.
"That was the reason we wanted to have an open lineup today," he said. "We wanted to use a committee of pitchers and some of those pitchers are also position players, and then we had some players we wanted to give at-bats and then have preparation time to go back in as a pitcher.
"It was great for the other team to accept our proposal at the start of the game so that we could make sure we were ready at all positions for next week's competition."
The next game for the women's squad will be the first of three against the remaining teams in their pool, facing Netherlands Monday, Chinese Taipei Tuesday and then USA on Wednesday. The top two teams from the pool will advance.
"We have two other practices left," Lachance said. "We will have a chance to practice at the main field and get a feel for the playing surface, but we're looking good. We have lots of depth in our pitching and we have the best pitching staff ever for the national team.
"And offensively, with the game we had today I'm quite confident our key players will contribute again. We'll go with 100 per cent confidence into that first game."
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis