Kaleigh Rafter has been in the forefront of women’s softball in Canada for almost a decade now, so she knows a thing or two about facing the powerhouse United States for gold.
“They know us, we know them. Just lay it out there and see what happens,” Rafter said after her two-run single helped Canada to a 7-4 semifinal win over Puerto Rico here Saturday night, setting up Sunday’s Pan Am final against the Americans.
Canada-U.S. is the matchup that about 3,000 softball fans on hand Saturdaywanted, but it came the hard way. Canada lost 5-2 to the Americans Friday, forcing a semi where all the pressure was on Canada.
A couple of hundred feet away on the baseball diamond, the Canadian women’s team faced the exact same script and delivered a 6-1 win over Venezuela after trailing 1-0 with just a single hit in the top of the fifth inning.
Rebecca Hartley, Nicole Luchanski and Kelsey Lalor ignited a six-run fifth, that also featured some rough fielding by the Venezuelans, to break the game open.
Now, it’s on to a super Sunday in Ajax where both Canadian teams will face their American rivals for Pan Am gold.
“There’s no one else we’d rather play,” said Luchanski, arguably the best leadoff batter in the tournament. “They’re like our cousins being so close to the border, so this is going to be a lot of fun.”
Ajax has already hosted a thrilling gold medal win by Canada’s men’s baseball team over the Americans and now has two more big games on deck, including the first-ever Pan Am women’s baseball final. Both gold-medal games are expected to sell out, organizers say.
“There’s no greater inspiration than the men winning the gold medal here against the Americans,” Team Canada baseball manager Andre Lachance said.
“Sold out,” an excited Luchanski added. “Wow, if it’s packed here it will be electric, for sure.”
Canada’s women know they are in tough when it comes to facing the Americans, who have overpowered every opponent in softball at these Games in going 5-0, including two wins over Canada.
“They have a great lineup, a great pitching staff, and we’re going to have to get those big hits and runs like we got tonight,” said Rafter of Guelph, Ont., referring to her own big hit and another by Megan Timpf.
“This game (against Puerto Rico) was close and we’ve done better against them in the past. So, yes, the pressure was all on our shoulders tonight. We ran into a tough team there and they’ve been playing great, but everyone contributed. This was a team win and that’s what we do best. We’re a good team.”
On the baseball side, Canada lost to the U.S. Friday to set up a pressure filled semifinal Saturday, in which Venezuela lost but left with the bronze.
Canada and the U.S. are 4-4 head-to-head overall, but the Americans feature Houston high school outfielder/pitcher Sarah Hudek, a standout who recently joined the Bossier Parish Community College men’s team on a scholarship.
“We had a good meeting after (Friday’s 3-1 defeat) and the message was: We played a very good game, we lost, but we played well,” Hartley said. “It’s one game now and anything can happen.”