One bad inning was all it took for the Titans softball team to fall to the visiting Japan Toyota of the Japanese Professional League, 8-1, in an exhibition game on Wednesday.
The Titans, coming off a 6-0 loss to Oregon on Sunday, came out strong defensively, holding Japan Toyota scoreless for three innings, anchored by the lights-out pitching of freshman right-hander Jasmine Antunez.
“(Antunez) has it in her, she gets the game, she’s strategic, talented and what I’m most impressed with is her maturity,” said Titan Head Coach Kelly Ford. “She handles anything out there and I think the defense really plays behind her.”
Antunez pitched just three innings but left her mark with four strikeouts, zero hits and no runs allowed.
“I just wanted to have fun out there,” Antunez said of her performance. “I just remember when I was little watching them play and actually getting to face them was pretty cool so I just wanted to have fun out there.”
As impressive as Antunez was, Team Toyota matched her every move defensively as their right-handed pitcher, Yuka Nakamura, shut down the Titans in her three innings of work, allowing just one hit on zero walks.
Team Toyota drew first blood in the fourth inning after a single by designated player Nozomi Nagasaki put pressure on Ybarra, who came in to relieve Antunez. After a wild pitch that advanced Nozomi to second, Japan’s Haruna Sakamoto hit a shot to second that Titan sophomore second baseman Carissa Turang couldn’t handle and scoring on the error was Nozomi.
Ybarra finished the game with one strikeout on two base hits and one unearned run.
Then came the sixth inning and everything changed for the Titans as Japan put up seven runs alone in the inning on a few mishaps by Titan senior right-hander Katey Laban.
It all started with a double down the left field line by Japan’s Yukimi Chikyu. After advancing on a wild pitch by Laban, Yukimi was able to score on a ground out. Laban then walked Midori Kamiyama who then advanced to second base on a passed ball by the catcher. After an error by the Titans to put runners on the corners, a double steal by Japan extended the lead to 3-0.
Japan’s Haruna Sakamoto hit a shot over the center fielder to put one more run on the board with a double. After a pair of hits and a double by Japan’s Asako Mabuchi, the game was out of reach as the Titans fell behind 8-0.
CSUF didn’t go quietly as Ybarra did not let the Titans go down in shutout fashion. In the bottom of the inning with Fullerton junior catcher Ariel Tsuchiyama on first base after a walk, Ybarra hit a shot over the right fielder to finally put the Titans on the board with a double but it proved to be the lone run for CSUF on the evening.
It was a dream come true to many of the Titan players just to get a chance to face Team Toyota, back-to-back champions of the Japan Softball League, who travel to the United States annually to play collegiate and professional teams to gear up for their season.
“It is a good atmosphere and everything and a great field,” said head coach Itushi Fukuda through translator Miyako Ikuhara. “It was a little bit cold but a lot warmer than Japan.”
Although they did not play, Team Toyota features two USA olympians, Monica Abbott and Natasha Watley.
“It’s every girls dream to pitch and play against (Team Toyot)],” said Titan sophomore left-handed pitcher Desiree Ybarra. “It was a great experience facing them and it’s something you don’t get a chance to do everyday.”
It was a tough challenge but the Titans were able to hold their own for a while against a professional team.
“These are professional athletes, these guys train every single day for eight hours, even today they practiced for three hours before then came here for their pre-game practice,” Ford said. “It was really amazing for our athletes to see that level of professionalism.”
By Sergio Gomez