Veteran Ashley Stephenson came into the women’s baseball World Cup with the mindset that the tournament could be her last as a player.
Now that she’s leaving with a bronze medal after a dramatic win over the United States, the third baseman from Mississauga, Ont., isn’t quite sure she’s ready to give it up.
Stephenson drove in two runs as part of a five-run 10th inning after Daphnee Gelinas broke the tie with an RBI single, and Canada held on to defeat the host United States 8-5 in Viera, Fla., on Friday.
“I was talking to Kate Psota, another veteran on the team, and she was like: ‘I don’t know how we can hang it up after this. That was just way too much fun,’” Stephenson said with a laugh. ”We just kind of chuckled to ourselves and left the room without saying anything else — so yeah, it will be a cliffhanger for the next little bit.
“I approached it like it was my last tournament and have no regrets about it. It’s every two years so it’s a big commitment. … But we didn’t pull the chute just yet.”
With international baseball rules in play, the teams began their respective halves of the extra innings with runners on first and second. Neither team managed to push a run across over the eighth and ninth despite plenty of chances on both sides.
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Gelinas finally broke through with a run-scoring single off Stacy Piagno in the top of the 10th — her fourth RBI of the game after a three-run homer in the fifth — and Anne-Sophie Lavalee made it 5-3 with a bases-loaded hit by pitch. Mia Valke drove in another and Stephenson followed with her two-run base hit.
Right-hander Allison Schroder, competing in her first World Cup, allowed two runs in the bottom of the 10th before getting a double play to end the game.
Stephenson, a high school teacher, has played in each of the eight World Cups since the tournament’s inception in 2004. Psota, of Burlington, Ont., has done the same while manager Andre Lachance has skipped the team from the beginning.
This World Cup marked Lachance’s last at the helm of the women’s national program.
“Where the sport’s gone since 2004, not just in our country but across the globe, a lot of it has to do with Andre,” Stephenson said. “Today, the bronze felt like gold and I’m glad he was able to go out with a medal.”
Canada won silver at the last tournament in South Korea in 2016, losing to No. 1-ranked Japan in the championship final. The Canadians, ranked No. 2, have finished in the top 4 in every World Cup and have six medals — four bronze and two silvers.
Japan beat Taiwan for its sixth consecutive gold medal later Friday.
Gelinas had given Canada a 3-2 lead with her three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning. The second baseman from Repentigny, Que., connected on a 3-1 pitch from Brittany Schutte with one out, sending the ball over the right-field fence and scoring Kaitlyn Ross and Nicole Luchanski.
Canada was two outs away from victory when the U.S. tied the game on a Malaika Underwood double off Schroder in the bottom of the seventh.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Stephenson said. “I just remember saying when I jogged into the dugout ‘well let’s have fun.’ International tiebreak, I knew it would be a crazy finish.”
The Americans had scored two in the first inning on a single and a bases-loaded hit batter from Canada’s Amanda Asay, who was starting two days after pitching a complete game shutout against Venezuela.
The right-hander from Prince George, B.C., who’s in the process of completing a PhD in forestry at UBC, worked 5 2/3 innings before being replaced by the 16-year-old Schroder. The Fruitvale, B.C., native inherited a runner on third, but struck out pinch hitter Samantha Cobb to end the inning.
“Asay really bared down on the mound and was outstanding,” Stephenson said. “And then Schroder came in with nerves of steel. And she just kept dealing in extras.”
Schroder was one of two 16-year-olds on a Canadian team that blended youth with experience. Five more players on the roster were under 18.
“The future is right now for sure for this program.” Stephenson said. “There’s some veterans that were key, Psota had an unbelievable tournament, Luchanski is always so good. But the young girls really are the future and they’re here and they’re ready.
“It’s been fun to watch.”
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press