The Aussie Spirit, Australia's national women's softball team, has qualified for the Women's Softball World Cup Finals after an arduous Group Stage in which they finished second in Group A to automatically advance to the next stage of the tournament.
A mainstay of the Women's Softball World Cup since its inception in 1965 (where they won the inaugural tournament), the Spirit will look to make history once again when the competition moves to Italy for the Finals in July next year after the WBSC announced an event-first of being split into two separate stages.
Group A was played in Balbriggan, Ireland and saw Australia - ranked number nine in the world - come up against the likes of defending Women's Softball World Cup Champions and world number one, the USA, as well as Great Britain, Ireland, Botswana, and Chinese Taipei.
GAME 1 VS GREAT BRITAIN
Australia opened Group A's fixture with a match-up against Great Britain. In a perhaps surprising result, the world number 16 ranked nation came away with a 2-0 victory with single runs scored in the fourth and sixth innings. For the Spirit, Tamieka Whitefield, Clare Warwick, and Kylie Steemers each collected a hit each. Ellen Roberts was the starting pitcher, giving up four hits and one run, along with four strikeouts, before Kaia Parnaby pitched two innings for three hits, one run, and five strikeouts.
GAME 2 VS IRELAND
Australia got on the winner's list in the team's match-up with Ireland, prevailing 4-0. Kylie Steemers scored twice off of one hit and one walk and Clare Warwick had two RBIs, while Jade Wall hit the first home run of the Dingeroos' tournament in the sixth inning. Kaia Parnaby pitched a complete game, putting in seven innings of work in the middle for one hit and 14 strikeouts.
GAME 3 VS BOTSWANA
Australia needed just four innings to take care of Botswana and enforce the run-ahead rule in a game that ended 10-0, off the back of an eight-run first inning. Phillipa Adkins went two for three with two runs and three RBIs, including an inside-the-park home run. Stacey McManus had two RBIs as Kylie Steemers scored twice from three walks. Kendra Lamb got the win, claiming seven strikeouts in three innings, before one inning of relief from Grace Wrixon.
GAME 4 VS USA
Following the victory over Botswana, Australia backed up on the same day for an encounter against the USA, taking the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games runners-up into extra innings, eventually falling 1-0 in eight complete innings. The Spirit had one hit for the game via Jade Wall, while five pitchers were rotated across the contest. Wall robbed a USA home run in the first inning, before an inning-ending double play from Tamieka Whitefield, each showing Australia's fielding ability was on full display in a tight tussle with a world heavyweight.
GAME 5 VS CHINESE TAIPEI
The final game of the regular round of matches saw Australia head into the fixture with Chinese Taipei in what was to be a pre-cursor for the playoffs. The Spirit would go onto win 5-0 in a rain-effected match-up that ensured they finished third in the group. Taylah Tsitsikronis went two for four with a run, while Jade Wall went two for three with an RBI. Kandra Lamb and Kaia Parnaby combined for seven innings on the mound, with six hits and six strikeouts between them.
QUALIFICATION PLAYOFF V CHINESE TAIPEI
After finishing Group A in third place, Australia took on Chinese Taipei once again, the winner of which living another day to play in the repechage against the loser of the match between first and second (Great Britain and the USA). In a game that had twists and turns at every moment, the Spirit would hold on to win 4-3.
Chinese Taipei got an early lead in the second inning, before Australia clawed ahead in the third inning with two runs to lead 2-1. Australia would extend its lead to three runs by the end of the sixth inning, before a fighting Chinese Taipei didn't back down, scoring twice at the top of the seventh inning before being shut down, with Australia breathing a sigh of relief.
Shannon Keevers went two for three with a run, while Jade Wall also went two for three with an RBI, with Tamieka Whitefield going two for four with two runs. Kaia Parnaby pitched 6.2 innings for seven hits, three runs and two strikeouts, before Ellen Roberts came in to close out the game.
REPECHAGE V GREAT BRITAIN
It was all on the line for Australia, coming up against Great Britain to decide who would go through to the Women's Softball World Cup Finals, and who would claim a Wildcard Spot. In the end, the Spirit won 4-1 in a come-from-behind victory.
Great Britain got the jump early with a run in the first inning and held onto that lead until the fifth inning when Australia finally got on the board, and in a big way. All three of the Spirit's runs came in the fifth inning, before being able to shut out their opponents for the rest of the match.
Five Australians collected individual hits as four Australians scored a run. Jade Wall went one for two with two RBIs and two walks. Ellen Roberts pitched a complete game and in seven innings, restricted Great Britain to four hits and one run, while amassing six strikeouts.
The Aussie Spirit will now have to wait until July next year for the next stage of the Women's Softball World Cup. Group B and Group C fixtures get underway from this week to find out who will join Australia and the USA from Group A at the Finals.
Before you move on, why not give our Facebook page a like here. Or give our Twitter account a follow to keep up with our work here.