Softball returned to the Olympics after a 13-year hiatus on Wednesday in Tokyo, and Cal’s Valerie Arioto scored the first run of the tournament for the top-ranked USA team.
The USA shut out Italy 2-0 in its opener at Fukushima Azuma Stadium in a game that began at 8 p.m. PT on Tuesday.
Arioto, the former All-America first baseman and 2012 Pac-12 Player of the Year at Cal, got the USA squad off on the right foot in the fourth inning. She led off with an infield single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ali Aguilar and scored on a single to right by Michelle Moultrie.
The Americans added to their lead in the fifth inning when Aubree Munro reached on an infield single and took second on a throwing error. Haylie McCleney beat out an infield single, sending Munro to third. She scored on a sacrifice fly by Janie Reed.
Cat Osterman, a 38-year-old three-time Olympian, allowed just one hit through six innings to claim the victory. She struck out nine. The final USA player still active from the 2004 gold medalists, she improved to 6-1 at the Olympics with 66 strikeouts in 38 innings.
Monica Abbott, who played on the 2008 silver-medal team, struck out the side in order in the seventh to secure the save,
Arioto was perfectly positioned to play in the 2012 Olympics — the year she graduated from Cal — but the IOC dropped softball and baseball from the Olympic schedule after 2008. Both sports are making their return in Tokyo.
Now 32, Arioto has been a consistent member of the USA national team in the interim and finally is getting her chance on the Olympic stage. She was 1-for-2 with a walk against Italy.
USA, which won gold at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics before settling for silver in 2008 at Beijing, returns to action Thursday against Canada.
Cover photo of Valerie Arioto by Yukhito Taguchi, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo