Rachel Garcia, U.S. softball team set to take on global powers at International Cup
The U.S. softball team already has secured a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This week's International Cup in Columbus, Georgia, site of the 1996 Games, will provide an opportunity to see how the Americans measure up against the rest of the world. Four of the top five teams are in the field.
The United States, which lost two of three games against Japan last week at the Japan All-Star Series, will get another shot this week against its rival and the last team to strike gold -- at the 2008 Olympics.
Here are five things to know heading into the event, which runs July 1-7.
Cat is back
Pitcher Cat Osterman, who retired from professional softball in 2015, is back and in hot pursuit of her second gold medal. The 36-year-old lefty threw her first pitches for Team USA since 2010 in the Japan Series. In two appearances, Osterman went 1-1 and gave up three hits, one run and five walks while striking out eight over 6⅔ innings. Osterman, who won gold in 2004, was also the starting pitcher in Team USA's loss to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game that ended the Americans' dominance in the sport. Team USA has won gold at three of the four Olympics that have staged softball. Osterman, who has been a coach at Texas State since 2015, is part of a U.S. rotation that includes fellow 2008 Olympic silver medalist Monica Abbott, Oklahoma assistant coach and Sooners legend Keilani Ricketts, reigning national champion Rachel Garcia of UCLA and former Bruins great Ally Carda.
Speaking of Garcia ...
In the past month, Rachel Garcia has won a Women's College World Series title, been named the WCWS most outstanding player and awarded the Honda Cup (aka the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year). Now the UCLA hitter/pitcher -- who went 5-0 in the circle at the WCWS with a 1.75 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 36 innings and batted .333 (5-for-15) with two homers, eight RBIs and five walks -- has rejoined Team USA. The Bruins' senior-to-be did not join Team USA on its trip to Japan. Last summer, Garcia had a big hand in helping Team USA secure it Olympic bid. She had a 1.05 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings at the WBSC Women's World Championship. She also had an eighth-inning walk-off hit in the semifinal against Japan.
The familiar faces of Mexico
Team Mexico will bring a roster chock-full of familiar faces to Georgia, none more so than Danielle O'Toole, the former USA pitcher who was given a release by Team USA after not making its 2019 roster. O'Toole, who won a gold medal with the United States at the world championships last summer, is now part of a Mexico rotation with a distinct Arizona flavor. In addition to O'Toole, a former Wildcat, Taylor McQuillin (Arizona), Dallas Escobedo (Arizona State) and Cielo Meza (Arizona State) also bolster Mexico's roster. Players in the batting order may ring a bell, too, notably Tori Vidales (Texas A&M), Nicole Mendes (Oklahoma), Eliyah Flores (Oklahoma) and Amanda Sanchez (LSU). Sierra Romero, who had planned to help lead Mexico's charge to an Olympic bid, is unable to play after tearing an ACL. Sydney Romero, who signed with the USSSA Pride of National Pro Fastpitch following her senior season at Oklahoma, is instead expected to play for the Pride this week. Puerto Rico also features several NCAA stars past and present, including Aleshia Ocasio (Florida), Carsyn Gordon (FSU), Giselle Juarez (Oklahoma), Shemiah Sanchez (LSU), Meghan King (FSU) and Taran Alvelo (Washington). The U.S., ranked No. 1 in the world, is scheduled to play both No. 5 Mexico and No. 4 Puerto Rico on Saturday (ESPN2).
Myers coaching China
Former Auburn associate head coach Corey Myers, who took over the head-coaching duties for China's national team late last year, is slated to coach the Chinese team at the International Cup. Myers resigned from Auburn in March 2017 and was banned from Auburn's campus on Aug. 21, 2017. A Title IX investigation concluded that Myers had violated school policy by pursuing inappropriate relationships with more than one student. Myers led the team to the title at the Asia Pacific Cup 2019 in February.
No Olympic bids will be at stake at the International Cup, but the six-team field for Tokyo will be set by the end of September. The United States, which won the 2018 world championship, and host Japan already are in. One team will clinch a spot from the Europe/Africa qualifier (Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain are the top teams in the rankings), which will be held in the Netherlands July 23-28. Two teams will advance from the Americas qualifier, which includes powerhouses Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, scheduled for Aug. 25-29 in Canada. The final team will come from the Asia/Oceania qualifier, which is scheduled for Sept. 24-29 in China. Top contenders from that group include Australia, Chinese Taipei and China.
How to watch the International Cup
July 4: USA vs. Chinese Taipei, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
July 5: USA vs. Japan, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2
July 6: USA vs. Mexico, noon ET, ESPN2
July 6: USA vs. Puerto Rico, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
July 7: Championship, Teams TBD, noon ET, ESPN
Click here for the full schedule.