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Women's World Qualifier: Canada secures seventh-inning comeback victory over Cuba

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico – After cruising through their first two wins of the COPABE Women’s World Cup qualifier, the Canadian Women’s National Team faced a tough test against Cuba on Tuesday, but fought back from a late deficit to secure a 7-5 win for the squad’s third victory of the event.

The crux of the battle began in the bottom of the sixth, when Cuba plated its fifth run to get ahead of the Canadians by one. With two outs and two runners on base, 17-year-old right-hander Sophy Gagne (Ste-Martine, QC) got a quick ground ball to send her squad back to the plate and help shift momentum in Team Canada’s favour.

“The last inning was impressive – pitching, defence, and hitting of course,” Canadian manager Aaron Myette said. “Gagne came in, in a tough spot, and she kept us in it. Not only that, but she got us some momentum with the way she pitched. Our girls came in and no one was defeated, no one was down, the feeling on the bench was just that we were going out there and we’re going to get this. We know the girls are capable of that, and they did it for us today.”

After Jenna Flannigan (Cornwall, ON) was hit by a pitch and Emma Carr (Toronto, ON) singled to open the top of the seventh, 14-year national team veteran Amanda Asay (Prince George, BC) entered the game and launched a pinch-hit, two-run, go-ahead double to the wall in centre field to give Canada the lead and the late offence it needed to secure the victory.

“I can’t say enough good things about Asay, but she pitches, she’s a leader, and then we know we’re going to get good at-bats from her,” Myette said. “We know she’s not intimidated by any situation or any pitcher, and we know she can hit the ball hard like she did today, bringing in those two runs for us.”

Team Canada got ahead of the Cubans early in the affair, plating one run in the first, adding two in the second and another in the third, before the home team scratched two across in the fourth to cut the lead in half. Cuba added another pair of runs in the fifth before going ahead in the sixth, but was shut down by Gagne, who retired the side in the bottom of the seventh.

Claire Eccles (Surrey, BC) paced the offence with three hits in the matchup, also scoring a run and stealing a base. Ellie Jesperson (Spruce Grove, AB) singled twice and drove in two, while Carr reached base in all four of her plate appearances, with two singles, two walks, one run scored, and one driven in.

“It’s been fun to see what this team can do,” 21-year-old Eccles said. “I’ve been used to being one of the young ones and this year kind of flipped the switch. Now I’m on the higher side of the average age [of 20], but it’s been fun. They’re really talented, so it’s been cool to play with all of them.”

Anne-Sophie Lavallee (Boucherville, QC) got the start for Team Canada, and battled through five innings. The 22-year-old left-hander allowed four runs (none earned) on eight hits, with three walks and two strikeouts, and kept her squad in the game throughout.

“For our pitchers, the leadoff hitters in each inning are important, getting ahead of hitters is important, and I’ve seen Anne-So do better at those things,” Myette said. “When you’re pitching with leadoff runners on, behind in counts, the momentum and balance tips towards the hitters.

“But to be able to pitch from behind more than she’s used to and battle through those at-bats, that is pitching. When we can pitch when we don’t have our best stuff, or that great command we’re used to and we can still get wins and keep the team in the game, that’s huge.”

After two mercy-rule-shortened games to open the tournament, the comeback victory for the Canadian squad was just what it needed as the competition gets tougher in the qualifier.

“We gave them runs today, but we know what the girls are capable of, and for them to go out there and not let them drag anyone down but instead to rally together and play together and know we’re strong and we can come back, they know that together we can face anything,” Myette said.

“This win was huge, especially since we play the States tomorrow,” Eccles said. “Cuba we knew would be a bit tougher than our first two matchups, but it gave us a taste of the competition we’ll face tomorrow. But it was good to know that we can come back from something like that.”

Up next: The Women’s National Team will take on Team USA as the home squad on Wednesday, with first pitch set for 9:00 a.m. CT. COPABE is expected to live stream all remaining games here.

2019 Women’s National Team roster

2019 COPABE World Cup qualifier schedule

You can also find all the latest information on our Women’s National Team Twitter account: @BaseballCANWNT