June 29, 2012

In just the third international game of the year for the U.S. national softball team, coach Ken Eriksen already had a reason to light a fire under his players.

Valerie Arioto homered, Lauren Gibson doubled in a run and the United States beat Australia 3-1 on Friday night at the World Cup of Softball despite what Eriksen considered a lackluster effort.

The Americans (2-0) were limited to four hits, committed two errors and another defensive gaffe and still were able to emerge with their 15th straight victory against Australia (2-1), a streak that dates to the 2000 Olympic Games.

"We can play a lot better. ... If I was a paying customer tonight, I would maybe want to see a little bit better game tomorrow so I can have my money's worth," Eriksen said.

"Let's put it that way."

Jordan Taylor (1-0) had a shutout going when she was pulled after the Americans took the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Arioto smacked an 0-1 pitch from Kaia Parnaby (2-1) over the fence in left-center field and Gibson added a run-scoring double to the gap in left-center.

Other than that, the U.S. managed only Gibson's infield single in the third and Katie Cochran's lined single to center that led to a run in the fifth.

"Those four hits were timely, so that's all that matters," said Arioto, this year's Pac-12 player of the year at California.

In the long run, though, Eriksen wants more as the U.S. - which opened the tournament with a run-rule victory over Puerto Rico a night earlier - chases its eighth straight world championship. The sport won't be played in the Olympics this summer in London.

"That's not the caliber of ball that I think we can play," Eriksen said.

"If we're going to play that poorly and win, you've got to be realistic. You're happy with the wins," he added "But if we didn't win that ballgame, that's when you would be really, really disappointed. We've got a lot to work on. There's no question about it. We've got a lot to work on, but that's why we're here right now. We're getting ready for the world championships."

The six-team World Cup, moved up about two weeks this year and at the start of the U.S. season instead of the middle, is essentially spring training for the team that was put together after the end of the college season at the start of June.

"Games like this and the games that we've been playing the past few weeks will help us in the long run to learn what we need to work on and get better at before we get to world championships," Gibson said.

Stacey Porter had an RBI single in the fifth for Australia before the U.S. got the run right back as Stacy May-Johnson scored on a passed ball.

Keilani Ricketts got out of a jam in the sixth after Gibson had defensive miscues on back-to-back plays. She couldn't come up with Chelsea Forkin's grounder and then broke toward second instead of first on Jodie Bowering's bunt, giving the Australians runners on first and second with one out.

It's those kind of plays that Eriksen knows the U.S. can work on over time, but he wants to see the right kind of attitude first.

"I thought our energy level was down a little bit tonight," he said. "I hate to think that anybody thought we were disinterested in playing that game tonight but I didn't feel like our energy was a Team USA-type energy."

Chelsea Thomas got the final out for her first save.

Earlier in the day, Australia had to rally from four runs down for a 7-6 victory against Canada (0-2), which got two home runs from Melanie Matthews and one from Jen Yee.

The Netherlands (3-0) swept a pair of games, 4-3 against Brazil and 7-2 against Puerto Rico, to set up Saturday's game against the U.S. as a meeting of the only teams yet to lose.

Britt Vonk from Cal had three hits and sparked a four-run sixth inning for the Dutch against Brazil (0-2). Karin Tuk homered, singled twice and drove in four runs against Puerto Rico (0-3).

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