The 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan will have its opening ceremony on Friday, but the Olympic Softball competition began yesterday and the first three opening round games have been played, as of this writing. In the second of those three games, Texas Longhorn alum and Olympic softball veteran Cat Osterman was the starting pitcher for Team USA against Italy and earned the win with a nearly spotless performance in a 2-0 victory. (Note: though the event is being held in 2021, the Summer Olympics will still officially carry the “Tokyo 2020” branding.)
The USA-Italy game started on Tuesday night at around 10:00 pm Central Time (Japan Standard Time is 14 hours ahead of the North American Central Time zone), and Osterman pitched six shutout innings, giving up just one hit and no walks while striking out 9 Italian foes. Fellow Olympic vet Monica Abbott relieved Osterman in the 7th inning and struck out all three batters she faced to close out the game and earn the save.
Osterman is one of 26 current, former, or future Texas Longhorn athletes slated to compete at the 2020 Olympics. This is her third time to play for the U.S. Olympic Softball team, having previously been a member of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams. Softball was not part of the Olympic program in 2012 or 2016, otherwise she might very well be a four-time Olympian already.
The 2004 U.S. team outscored its nine Olympic opponents by a combined score of 51-1, with the lone run allowed coming in its 5-1 win over Australia in the gold medal game.
Team USA seemed poised for a repeat of that dominating run at the 2008 Olympics, as the team outscored its 7 preliminary round opponents 53-1. In one of those seven games the U.S. beat Japan 7-0 behind a one-hit performance from Monica Abbott, who a year earlier had gone 50-5 as a senior at Tennessee and led the Lady Volunteers to a runner-up finish at the Women’s College World Series. When the U.S. faced Japan again in the semifinal round, the Americans won again, with Osterman coming on in relief of Abbott and getting the save in a 4-1 victory.
Japan went on to beat Australia 4-3 in 12 innings in the Bronze Medal game (the loser of which got the bronze medal, while the winner advanced to the championship) to set up a third matchup with Team USA, this time in the Gold Medal game. Against Japan in the 2008 Olympic final, Osterman struck out 9 hitters in 5 innings, but allowed two earned runs in a game in which the American bats could only manage one. The 3-1 loss to Japan broke a 22-game Olympic winning streak by Team USA and ended its thorough dominance of the Olympic softball competition, as it had won all three gold medals since softball was first included on the Summer Olympic program in 1996.
With softball returning to the Olympics this year after a long absence, Osterman and Abbott will get a chance at redemption for the loss to Japan in the last Olympic softball gold medal match 13 years ago. At age 38, Osterman is the oldest member of the U.S. Olympic softball team, followed by Abbott, who turns 36 next week. They are the only returning softball Olympians for Team USA, as most of the other members of the team were in either high school or junior high at the time of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
A softball team aiming for an Olympic gold medal could hardly do better than to have Osterman and Abbott on its pitching staff. While in college at Texas and Tennessee, respectively, the two combined to toss 43 NCAA Division I no-hitters and 13 perfect games. They both also have several years of pro softball experience in both Japan and in the United States. Team USA members Ally Carda and Rachel Garcia, who both spent time at pitcher and in the field while starring at UCLA, also have collegiate no-hitters to their name.
Only six teams are entered in the Olympic Softball field, compared with eight at every Olympic games from 1996 to 2008. The rest of Team USA’s opening round schedule is as follows, with dates and start times listed according to Central Time and the U.S. broadcast info in parentheses:
July 21 at 7:00 p.m. — USA vs. Canada (NBCSN)
July 24 at 12:30 a.m. — USA vs. Mexico (NBCSN)
July 24 at 10:00 p.m. — Australia vs. USA (CNBC)
July 25 at 10:00 p.m. — Japan vs. USA (USA Network)
The Bronze Medal game will be played at 11:00 p.m. on July 26 and will be carried live by CNBC, and the Gold Medal game is scheduled for July 27 at 6:00 a.m. and will air on NBCSN.
[Author’s note: This post originally contained three references to a pitcher’s “mound”, which I inaccurately used as a catch-all term for the area from which a pitcher throws the ball. A reader pointed out that a softball field doesn’t have a raised mound of dirt for the pitcher in the center of the diamond, and the pitcher instead throws from an encircled flat surface that is variously referred to as the rubber, pitching circle, or pitching plate. I regret the error.]