Australian softball team find second home in Tokyo as Japan start in style

FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - JULY 21: Pitcher Kaia Parnaby #32 of Team Australia winds up for a pitch against Team Japan in the second inning during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on July 21, 2021 in Fukushima, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)
FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - JULY 21: Pitcher Kaia Parnaby #32 of Team Australia winds up for a pitch against Team Japan in the second inning during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on July 21, 2021 in Fukushima, Japan. (Photo by Yuichi Masuda/Getty Images)

'Aussie Spirit' received a warm welcome from their hosts in Ōta City, Tokyo, but the hospitality ended when the Olympic action began as Japan ran riot in Fukushima.

The first Olympians to arrive in Tokyo, Australia's softball team have found a new home in Ōta City in the Tokyo Metropolis.

Blown away by the welcome they've received which included a visit from local mayor SHIMIZU Masayoshi who credited the squad, nicknamed 'Aussie Spirit,' with making Ōta City "famous".

“You’re so cool,” the politician is reported to have said by The Guardian , “I’ve seen the Australian team a few times, you guys are really cool. Thanks to all of you, Ōta City has become famous. I appreciate it.”

But when the real business started in Fukushima on Wednesday morning, Japan's legendary welcome was forgotten on the field of play as the home team took just five innings to complete an 8-1 mercy rule victory.

The reigning champions from Beijing 2008 - the last time softball was on the Olympic programme - made a shaky start as Australia loaded the bases.

Japan's pitcher, and 2008 hero, UENO Yukiko then hit Chelsea Forkin to gift Australia the opening score.

YAMAMOTO Yu drove in NAITO Minori to level it at 1-1 in the bottom of the first, and Ueno soon found her stride on the mound.

In the third inning, we had our first home run of these Olympic Games with Naito connecting for a two-run shot off Kaia Parnaby.

There was more toil for the Australian pitcher in the fourth as FUJITA Yamato crushed her over centre field for another two-run homer and a 5-1 lead.

YAMADA Eri then got home from third on a HARADA Noriko sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

And it was all over in the bottom of the fifth as Yamamoto smashed another two-run homer over centre field with Japan winning 8-1 thanks to the 'Mercy Rule'.

The WBSC rules for softball state that games will be called as final if one team leads by seven runs after five innings, and that's what happened in Fukushima.

READ: Japan's softball team opens Olympic competitions in style

Australia softball team: Down but not out

There's no time to dwell on mistakes, however, and the Australian women will have to pick themselves up for Thursday's match-up with Italy.

The six-team competition has a round-robin group phase with the top two teams playing for gold and the next two for bronze.

After Italy, Australia still have to play with Mexico, Canada, and the United States so there is time to turn things around.

And there is no shame in losing to Japan who are fancied to meet the U.S. in a rematch of the Beijing 2008 final.

As American pitcher Monica Abbott told Kyodo News last month, “they eat and breathe softball” in Japan.

Mexican pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who has played in Japan's hugely popular professional league since last year, backed up that assessment in Tokyo saying: “Softball is the biggest thing out here. The fans, the competitiveness is unbelievable.”

Aussie Spirit

Australia captain Stacey Porter will help steady the ship and calm the camp, using all her experienced gained at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics Games.

The 39-year-old is considered to be one of the best batters in the world and spoke to the Tokyo 2020 official website before Wednesday morning's opener saying "this group has that belief".

Making her Olympic debut, pitcher Kaia Parnaby talked about the unity in the camp and how their early arrival has turned them into a tight-knit group.

"Being around our teammates all the time we have this bond that no one else shares with us," Parnaby said , "we have a camaraderie that brings us closer. I think the closeness of our group has helped us get through.

"We've been here for a month, that's a long time to spend with just each other.

"But we've done such a good job in knowing when our teammates need time to chill by ourselves or when we need to be with each other and soak up the moment."

Now Australia will need to come together and use that unity to bounce back from a heavy opening match defeat at Tokyo 2020.