Canada routs Australia to earn pivotal Olympic softball win

Canada’s women’s softball team beat Australia 7-1 on Saturday in Japan, putting itself in prime position to play for the country’s first-ever Olympic medal.

The victory pushed third-ranked Canada’s record to 2-1 in the five-game round robin, with games against No. 2 Japan and No. 9 Italy still to come. No. 8 Australia falls to 1-2 with the loss.

The top two teams following the round robin play for gold, while the third- and fourth-place teams battle for bronze.

Now, a Canadian upset of Japan on Sunday could fuel the team’s gold-medal hopes, while a loss would still have it on track for the bronze-medal game if it beats Italy.

After falling behind 1-0 early against Australia, Canada rallied for six consecutive runs — three each in the first and second innings — to pull away.

Following outfielder and co-captain Victoria Hayward’s walk and steal in the first, an Australian throwing error allowed Hayward to score from second. Two batters later, first baseman Jenn Salling sent a ground-rule double to straight-away centre field, scoring a pair and knocking Australian starter Ellen Roberts out of the game after just one out.

Canada added to its lead in the second when another Australian error led to one run before shortstop Erika Polidori launched a two-run double of her own.

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Third baseman Emma Entzminger drove in Canada’s final run with a fourth-inning single to score Kelsey Harshman.

Starting her third straight game, Canadian pitcher Sara Groenewegen recorded only four outs after loading the bases in each of the first two innings. She was removed midway through an at-bat in the second inning following a long fly ball that landed barely foul just feet in front of the outfield wall.

WATCH | Groenewegen’s inspirational journey to Tokyo:

Watch CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature, on Sara Groenewegen. 2:11

But Groenewegen escaped relatively unscathed, with just the single run scoring in the first and reliever Jenna Caira cleaning up her mess in the second.

Caira completed 4-2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out three. Lauren Bay-Regula tossed a clean seventh inning to secure the victory.

Canada plays Japan on Sunday at 1:30 a.m. ET before wrapping group play against Italy on Monday.

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