U.S. blanks Puerto Rico at World Cup of Softball

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U.S. softball coach Ken Eriksen calls it "aggressive discipline" - the art of being patient and drawing walks.

His squad excelled at it Thursday on the opening day of the World Cup of Softball.

The U.S. combined seven hits with seven walks and cruised to an 8-0 win in five innings over Puerto Rico. Four of those walks came during a five-run third-inning outburst by the U.S., which scored in each of its four at-bats. All but one U.S. starter reached base safely at least once.

"Little things win ballgames and our execution tonight was pretty good," Eriksen said. "We got aggressive pitching, but we got very aggressive discipline at the plate tonight."

U.S. starter Chelsea Thomas struck out six batters in 3 2/3 innings and combined with Jackie Traina on a one-hitter. The lone hit for Puerto Rico (0-2) was a first-inning single by Karla O Claudio down the left-field line.

Christie Orgeron had a pair of doubles for the U.S. (1-0), which has won the World Cup of Softball in each of the last five years the event has been played. The American squad will face Australia on Friday night, The Netherlands and Canada on Saturday and Brazil on Sunday. The top two teams in the six-team round-robin event will play Monday for the title.

"A lot of people would not recognize the fact that, yeah, we had seven hits, but we did have seven walks," Eriksen said. "You combine the walks with the hits, that's 14 on base and this game is about being on base. I'm very, very excited about our team discipline tonight."

Sam Fischer's single to center drove in Rhea Taylor, who had walked, to give the U.S. an early lead in the first inning. Jenae Leles doubled off the wall in left-center on the first pitch of the second inning by Claudio, Puerto Rico's starter. Leles came around on a sacrifice by Orgeron and a sacrifice fly by Molly Johnson, making it 2-0.

In the third, the U.S. sent 11 batters to the plate. Two wild pitches by Claudio led to two U.S. runs. A two-out single by Valerie Arioto chased Claudio. Reliever Kaylyn Camacho fared even worse, failing to retire any of the four batters she faced, surrendering three walks and a double by Orgeron. Laura Ramos issued a bases-loaded walk to Katie Cochran before recording the final out.

"I think we did an excellent job as a team to be disciplined at the plate," Orgeron said. "No one was getting overanxious trying to make something happen. Being able to do the little things right at the plate, laying down sac bunts when we needed to, stealing bases, moving up on (wild pitches), those are the kind of things that will win you ballgames without ever having to get a hit."

Thomas, a two-time Big 12 pitcher of the year at Missouri who played on the gold medal-winning U.S. team in last year's Pan American Games, retired the last 10 batters she faced and allowed only one ball out of the infield. She credited catcher Jessica Shults for calling a good game.

"I thought she threw the best I've seen her throw in three years," Eriksen said of Thomas.

Traina's last appearance at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium - earlier this month - came while leading Alabama to its first Women's College World Series title. She retired all four batters she faced.

In other games Thursday, Virginie Annevelt went 3 for 4 to lead The Netherlands past Canada 7-6 in eight innings.

Nilze Higa struck out nine and Brazil scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to beat Puerto Rico 2-1.

Stacey Porter went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and three runs scored, and Jodie Bowering went 2 for 3 with two RBIs as Australia routed Brazil 11-1 in six innings.